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Corliss Lamont

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Title: Corliss Lamont  
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Subject: American Civil Liberties Union, National Council of American-Soviet Friendship, International Humanist and Ethical Union, Amsterdam Declaration, Edwin T. Dahlberg
Collection: 1902 Births, 1995 Deaths, 20Th-Century American Writers, Alumni of New College, Oxford, American Civil Liberties Union People, American Human Rights Activists, American Humanists, American Labor Party Politicians, American Male Writers, American Philanthropists, American Philosophers, American Socialists, Columbia University Alumni, Columbia University Faculty, Harvard University Alumni, Independent-Socialist Party Politicians, People from Englewood, New Jersey, People from Ossining, New York, Phillips Exeter Academy Alumni, The New School Alumni
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Corliss Lamont

Corliss Lamont (March 28, 1902 – April 26, 1995), was a socialist philosopher, and advocate of various left-wing and civil liberties causes. As a part of his political activities he was the Chairman of National Council of American-Soviet Friendship starting from the early 1940s.


  • Early years 1
  • 1950s 2
  • Continuing activism 3
  • Later life 4
  • Works 5
  • See also 6
  • Notes 7
  • External links 8

Early years

Lamont was born in valedictorian of Phillips Exeter Academy in 1920, and magna cum laude from Harvard University in 1924. The principles that animated his life were first evidenced at Harvard, where he attacked university clubs as snobbery.[1] In 1924 he did graduate work at New College University of Oxford, where he roomed with Julian Huxley. The next year Lamont began graduate studies at Columbia University, where he studied under John Dewey. In 1928 he became a philosophy instructor there and married Margaret Hayes Irish. He received his Ph.D. in philosophy in 1932 from Columbia.[2] Lamont taught at Columbia, Cornell, Harvard, and the New School for Social Research.

He became a radical in the 1930s, moved by the Great Depression. He wrote a book about the Soviet Union and praised what he saw there: "The people are better dressed, food is good and plentiful, everyone seems confident, happy and full of spirit".[1] He became critical of the Soviets over time, but always thought their achievement in transforming a feudal society remarkable, even as he attacked its treatment of political dissent and lack of civil liberties.[1] Lamont's political views were Marxist and socialist for much of his life.

Lamont began his 30 years as a director of the American Civil Liberties Union in 1932. In 1934, he was arrested while on a picket line in Jersey City, New Jersey, part of a long battle between labor and civil rights activists and Frank Hague, the city's mayor. Lamont later wrote that he "learned more about the American legal system in one day .. than in one year at Harvard Law School".[3]

In 1936, Lamont helped found and subsidized the magazine Marxist Quarterly. When the Dewey Commission reported in 1937 that the Moscow trials of Leon Trotsky and others were fraudulent, Lamont, along with other left-wing intellectuals, refused to accept the Commission's findings. Under the influence of the Popular Front, Lamont and 150 other left-wing writers endorsed Stalin's actions as necessary for "the preservation of progressive democracy". Their letter warned that Dewey's work was itself politically motivated and charged Dewey with supporting reactionary views and "Red-baiting".[4]

Lamont remained sympathetic to the Soviet Union well after World War II and the establishment of satellite Communist governments in Central and Eastern Europe. He authored a pamphlet entitled The Myth of Soviet Aggression in 1952. In it, he wrote:

The fact is, of course, that both the Truman and Eisenhower Administrations, in order to push their enormous armaments programs through Congress and to justify the continuation of the Cold War, have felt compelled to resort to the device of keeping the American people in a state of alarm over some alleged menace of Soviet or Communist origin.


In 1953, Lamont penned Why I Am Not a Communist. Despite his allegiance to Marxism, he never joined the Communist Party USA, and supported the Korean War.[5]

He ran for the U.S. Senate from New York, in 1952 on the American Labor ticket. He received 104,702 votes and lost to Republican Irving M. Ives.[6]

When called to testify in front of Senator Joseph McCarthy's Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations in 1953, he denied ever having been a Communist, but refused to discuss his beliefs or those of others, citing not the Fifth Amendment as so many others did but the First Amendment's guarantee of free speech.[1] The committee cited Lamont for contempt of Congress by a vote of 71 to 3 in August 1954. Some senators questioned McCarthy's authority and wanted a federal court to rule on it.[7] and in November Lamont donated $50,000 to create a $1,000,000 Bill of Rights Fund to support civil rights advocates, citing anti-Communist legislation, travel restrictions, and blacklisting in the entertainment industry.[8] That same month he challenged the subcommittee's authority in court.[9]

In April 1955, Lamont withdrew from his role as a philosophy lecturer at Columbia University pending the outcome of these legal proceedings, and the university said it was Lamont's decision, made "without prior suggestion by any officer of the university".[10] Judge Edward Weinfeld of the U.S. District Court found the indictment against Lamont was faulty, but the government, rather than seek a new indictment, appealed that ruling.[11] A unanimous panel of the Court of Appeals agreed in 1955[12] and in 1956 the government chose not to appeal to the Supreme Court.[13]

As a director of the ACLU, Lamont had resisted attempts to purge the organization of Communists and, in 1954, he resigned his position because he felt the ACLU had not supported him in the face of McCarthy charges.[1] The complete record of the legal proceedings in Lamont's case against the McCarthy subcommittee was published in 1957.[14]

In 1951 and 1957, he was denied a passport by the State Department, which considered his application incomplete because he refused to answer a question about membership in the Communist Party.[15] He sued the State Department in June 1957 seeking a hearing on its action.[16] He obtained his passport in June 1958 following a Supreme Court decision in another case, Kent v. Dulles, and left the U.S. for a world tour in March 1959.[17]

He ran again for the U.S. Senate from New York in 1958 on the Independent-Socialist ticket. He received more than 49,000 votes out of more than 5,500,000 cast and lost to Republican Kenneth B. Keating.[18]

In 1959, Lamont became an enthusiastic supporter of Fidel Castro and his revolutionary government in Cuba.[19][20]

Continuing activism

In 1964, he sued the Postmaster General for reading and at times refusing to deliver his mail under the anti-propaganda mail law of 1962, passed over the objections of the Department of Justice and the Post Office, that allowed the Postmaster General to destroy "communist political propaganda" sent from outside the United States unless the addressee says he wants to receive such mail. The statute did not apply to sealed correspondence, but was aimed at published materials. He lost a 2 to 1 decision in U.S. District Court, after the Post Office delivered one such item of mail, and he appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing that the single delivery was a subterfuge designed to moot his lawsuit while continue to interrupt his mail service.[21] On May 24, 1965, he won in the Supreme Court, which held unanimously in a decision in Lamont v. Postmaster General written by Justice William O. Douglas, that the law was unconstitutional.

It was the first time the Supreme Court invalidated a statute as a violation of the First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of speech. Lamont' attorney was Leonard B. Boudin, who worked on many civil liberties cases.[22] He won a similar lawsuit against the Central Intelligence Agency in federal court the same year.[1]

In the mid-1960s, he became chairman of the National Emergency Civil Liberties Committee, a position that he held until his death 30 years later.

In 1971, after a congressman called him an "identified member of the Communist Party, U.S.A.", Lamont issued a statement that "although it is no disgrace to belong to the Communist party, I have never even dreamed of joining it."[23] That same year, he financed Dorothy Day's visit to the Soviet Union and several other countries in Eastern Europe.[20][24]

Later life

Following the deaths of his parents, Lamont became a Rockwell Kent and John Masefield.[1] He became a substantial donor to both Harvard and Columbia, endowing the latter's Corliss Lamont Professor of Civil Liberties.[1]

Lamont was president emeritus of the American Humanist Association and in 1977 was named Humanist of the Year. In 1981, he received the Gandhi Peace Award. In 1998 Lamont received a posthumous Distinguished Humanist Service Award from the International Humanist and Ethical Union and he was one of the signers of the Humanist Manifesto.[25]

He and Margaret divorced in the 1960s. In 1962 he married Helen Boyden Lamb, who died of cancer in 1975.[26] In 1986, Lamont married Beth Keehner, who survived him[1]

He died at home in Ossining, New York, on April 26, 1995.[1]

He was the great-uncle of 2006 Democratic Party nominee for the United States Senate from Connecticut, Ned Lamont.[27]

Lamont was a prolific author. He wrote, co-wrote, edited, or co-edited more than two dozen books and dozens of pamphlets, and wrote thousands of letters to newspapers, magazines, and journals on significant social issues during his lifelong campaign for peace and civil rights.

In 1935 he published The Illusion of Immortality, which was a revised version of his doctoral dissertation. According to James Leuba the book is considered to remain the standard work on the subject and shows conclusively that the arguments for immortality are totally insufficient.[28] Lamont argued that people can live satisfactory lives without belief in life after death and that human life may be recognized to be more precious if it is realized that it only comes once to each man.[29]

His most famous work is The Philosophy of Humanism (1949), now in its eighth edition. He also published intimate portraits of George Santayana.


  • Illusion of Immortality, introduction by John Dewey, (1935), 5th edition 1990, Continuum Publishing Company, ISBN 0-8044-6377-8
  • The Philosophy of Humanism, (1949), 1965 edition: Ungar Pub Co ISBN 0-8044-5595-3, 7th rev. edition 1990: Continuum Publishing Company, ISBN 0-8044-6379-4, 8th rev. edition (with gender neutral references by editors Beverley Earles and Beth K. Lamont) 1997 Humanist Press ISBN 0-931779-07-3, Online version in Adobe Acrobat PDF format
  • The Myth of Soviet Aggression (1952)
  • Freedom Is As Freedom Does: Civil Liberties in America (1956), foreword by Bertrand Russell, reprint ed. 1990, Continuum Publishing Company, ISBN 0-8264-0475-8
  • Lover's Credo: Poems of Love (1972), 1983 edition: ISBN 0-87233-068-0, 1994: William L. Bauhan, ISBN 0-87233-114-8, Online version in HTML format
  • Voice in the Wilderness: Collected Essays of Corliss Lamont (1979), Prometheus Books, ISBN 0-87975-060-X
  • Yes to Life: Memoirs of Corliss Lamont (1981), Horizon Press: ISBN 0-8180-0232-8, rev. edition 1991: ISBN 0-8264-0477-4
  • A Lifetime of Dissent (1988), NY: Prometheus Books, ISBN 0-87975-463-X

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j McFadden, Robert D. "Corliss Lamont Dies at 93; Socialist Battled McCarthy". New York Times. Retrieved February 2, 2014. 
  2. ^ Corliss Lamont, Steadfast Activist at 84. New York: Basic Pamphlets, 1984; p. 4
  3. ^ Walker, Samuel (1990). In Defense of American Liberties: A History of the ACLU. Oxford University Press. p. 110. 
  4. ^ Warren, Frank A. (1966). Liberals and Communism: The "Red Decade" Revisited. Indiana University Press. pp. 168–9. 
  5. ^ Rothbard, Murray N.. Confessions of a Right-Wing Liberal, Ludwig von Mises Institute
  6. ^ "Final State Count Gives Record Vote". New York Times. December 9, 1952. Retrieved February 2, 2014. 
  7. ^ Lawrence, W.H. (August 17, 1954). ] Foes"sic"Senate for Citing 3 M'Carthy [. New York Times. Retrieved February 3, 2014. 
  8. ^ "Corliss Lamont Establishes Fund". New York Times. November 5, 1954. Retrieved February 3, 2014. 
  9. ^ "Lamont Files Motion". New York Times. November 24, 1954. Retrieved February 3, 2014. 
  10. ^ "Lamont Steps Out of Columbia Job". New York Times. April 29, 1955. Retrieved February 3, 2014. 
  11. ^ "U.S. Files Appeal in Lamont Case". New York Times. September 8, 1955. Retrieved February 3, 2014. 
  12. ^ "Lamont is Upheld in Appeals Court". New York Times. August 15, 1956. Retrieved February 3, 2014. 
  13. ^ "Lamont Case Dropped". New York Times. October 16, 1956. Retrieved February 3, 2014. 
  14. ^ Cahn, Edmond (October 13, 1957). "Legislators and Liberty". New York Times. Retrieved February 3, 2014. 
  15. ^ "Lamont Loses Suit to Get a Passport". New York Times. January 14, 1958. Retrieved February 3, 2014. 
  16. ^ "Corliss Lamont Sues to Obtain Passport". New York Times. June 19, 1957. Retrieved February 3, 2014. 
  17. ^ "Lamont on World Tour". New York Times. April 3, 1959. Retrieved February 3, 2014. 
  18. ^ Dales, Douglas (November 5, 1958). "Keating Wins Senate Post". New York Times. Retrieved February 12, 2014. 
  19. ^ Lamont, Corliss, A Lifetime of Dissent, New York: Prometheus Books (1988)
  20. ^ a b Day, Dorothy (2008). The Duty of Delight: The Diaries of Dorothy Day. Marquette University Press. p. 687.  Day described Lamont in her diary as a "'pinko' millionaire who lived modestly".
  21. ^ "Lamont Suit Will Test Law Permitting Red Mail Ban". New York Times. September 15, 1964. Retrieved February 2, 2014. 
  22. ^ Pomfret, John D. (May 25, 1965). "High Court Voids Law Curbing Red Propaganda". New York Times. Retrieved February 2, 2014. 
  23. ^ "Lamont Denies Joining the Communist Party". New York Times. May 14, 1971. Retrieved February 4, 2014. 
  24. ^ Day, Dorothy (September 1971). "On Pilgrimage: First Visit to Soviet Russia". Dorothy Day Collection. Retrieved January 31, 2014. 
  25. ^ "Humanist Manifesto II". American Humanist Association. Retrieved October 10, 2012. 
  26. ^ "Mrs. Corliss Lamont, Author, Economist and Educator, Dead". New York Times. July 22, 1975. Retrieved February 2, 2014. 
  27. ^ Patrick Healy (July 19, 2006). "Lieberman Rival Seeks Support Beyond Iraq Issue".  
  28. ^ Leuba, James. (1935). The Illusion of Immortality by Corliss Lamont. The Journal of Religion. Vol. 15, No. 3. pp. 323-325.
  29. ^ Sellars, Roy. (1951). The Illusion of Immortality by Corliss Lamont. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research. Vol. 11, No. 3. pp. 444-445.

External links

  • Corliss Lamont Website sponsored by the Half-Moon Foundation (a non-profit created to promote educational and informational activities consistent with the vision of founder Corliss Lamont, now run by his widow, Beth Keehner Lamont)
  • photo collection
  • A film clip "Longines Chronoscope with Dr. Corliss Lamont (October 1, 1952)" is available for free download at the Internet Archive []
  • Papers, 1929-1932. Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University
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