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Corliss Lamont

Birthdate: (93)
Death: 1995 (93)
Immediate Family:

Son of Thomas W. Lamont and Florence Haskell Lamont
Husband of Margaret Hayes Lamont and Helen Boyden Lamont
Father of Margaret Hayes Heap and Florence Parmelee Antonides
Brother of Thomas Stilwell Lamont; Eleanor Allen Cunningham and Austin Lamont

Managed by: Private User
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About 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 early 1940s. He was the great-uncle of 2006 Democratic Party nominee for the United States Senate from Connecticut, Ned Lamont.

Early years

Lamont was born in Englewood, New Jersey. His father, Thomas W. Lamont, was a Partner and later Chairman at J.P. Morgan & Co.. Lamont graduated as valedictorian of Phillips Exeter Academy in 1920, and magna cum laude from Harvard University in 1924. In 1924 he did graduate work at New College University of Oxford while he resided with Julian Huxley. The next year Lamont matriculated at Columbia University, where he studied under John Dewey. In 1928 he became a philosophy instructor at Columbia and married Margaret Hayes Irish. He received his Ph.D. in philosophy in 1932 from Columbia University. Lamont taught at Columbia, Cornell, Harvard, and the New School for Social Research . In 1962 he married Helen Elizabeth Boyden.

Lamont served as a director of the American Civil Liberties Union from 1932–1954, and chairman until his death, of the National Emergency Civil Liberties Committee, which successfully challenged Senator Joseph McCarthy's senate subcommittee and other government agencies. In the process Lamont was cited for contempt of Congress, but in 1956 an appeals court overturned his indictment. From 1951 until 1958, he was denied a passport by the State Department.

In 1965 he secured a Supreme Court ruling against censorship of incoming mail by the U.S. Postmaster General. In 1973 he discovered through Freedom of Information Act requests that the FBI had been tapping his phone, and scrutinizing his tax returns and cancelled checks for 30 years. His subsequent successful lawsuit set a precedent in upholding citizens' privacy rights. He also filed and won a suit against the Central Intelligence Agency for opening his mail.

Later life

Following the deaths of his parents, Lamont became a philanthropist. He funded the collection and preservation of manuscripts of American philosophers, particularly George Santayana. He became a substantial donor to both Harvard and Columbia, endowing the latter's Corliss Lamont Professor of Civil Liberties, currently held by Vincent A. Blasi. During the 1960s he and Margaret had divorced, and he married author Helen Boyden, who died of cancer in 1975. Lamont married Beth Keehner in 1986.

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.

Still an activist at the age of 88, he protested U.S. involvement in the Persian Gulf War in 1991. He died at home in Ossining, New York.

Political views

Corliss Lamont's political views were Marxist and socialist for much of his life. During the 1930s he was openly Marxist. In 1934, Corliss Lamont identified himself to former communist Max Eastman as a 'Truth Communist', saying according to Eastman, that he "did not accept the policy of political lying to the masses practiced by the official communist parties under Stalin." Later, Eastman would openly challenge Lamont on his avowed loyalties, charging that:

You continued to run with the Stalinist chiefs. You never exposed their political lies, or said publicly what you said to me in private. For a very long time you played friends with both 'Lie Communists' and 'Truth Communists', and gave your money with one hand to the Stalinists and with the other to independent revolutionary papers…Anybody who plays both sides in quiet times will be found in a crisis on the side of power...

In 1936, Lamont helped found and subsidized the magazine Marxist Quarterly. After the Dewey Commission exposed the truth behind Joseph Stalin's Soviet Union and the phoney Show Trials, including the trial in absentia of Leon Trotsky and executions of prominent Soviet citizens and government officials in Moscow, Lamont, along with other left-wing intellectuals refused to accept their published findings. In 1937, under the influence of the Popular Front, Lamont and 150 other left-wing writers affirmed Stalin's actions and that "the preservation of progressive democracy" demanded that Stalin's actions be ratified.

Lamont remained sympathetic to the Soviet Union well after World War II and the establishment of satellite Communist governments in Central and Eastern Europe, even authoring 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. 

Only a year later, in 1953, Lamont penned Why I Am Not a Communist. Despite his allegiance to Marxism, he never joined the Communist Party USA, and even supported the Korean War. He ran two losing campaigns for the U.S. Senate from New York, in 1952 on the American Labor ticket, and again in 1958 on the Independent-Socialist ticket. Upon Fidel Castro's victory in Cuba in 1959, Lamont became an enthusiastic supporter of Castro and his revolutionary government.