Corliss Lamont

On this date in 1902, Corliss Lamont was born in Englewood, N.J. His father, Thomas W. Lamont, was a chairman of J.P. Morgan & Co. Lamont attended Phillips Exeter Academy, and received his bachelor's degree from Harvard University in 1924. He eventually went on to obtain his Ph.D. in philosophy from Columbia University in 1932. Lamont supported many radical causes, including socialism, and although he never joined the Communist Party, he was strongly opposed to the persecution of Communists and was initially sympathetic to the Soviet and other Communist governments. He served as the director of the the American Civil Liberties Union from 1932 until 1954. He was a founder in 1954 of the National Emergency Civil Liberties Committee, a civil libertarian organization willing to stand up for known and suspected communists, after having been called before the House Un-American Activities Committee because of a book he had written, The Peoples of the Soviet Union (1946). He was cited for contempt of Congress, but his indictment was dismissed by the Court of Appeals on the grounds that he was outside the jurisdiction of the committee.

Lamont wrote many books, pamphlets, and essays throughout his life, including many on humanism. His influential book, The Philosophy of Humanism (1949), was based on a course he taught at Columbia in the 1940s and 1950s on naturalistic humanism. Other books on humanist subjects include his classic The Illusion of Immortality (1935), which argues against the immortality of the soul. He also wrote A Humanist Funeral Service (1954) and A Humanist Wedding Service (1970). He was an active member for many years of the American Humanist Association, and in 1977 was given its Humanist of the Year award. He continued to speak out and write about naturalistic humanism throughout his long life, as well as continuing his political activism. He died of heart failure at age 93. D. 1995.

“The greatest difference between the Humanist ethic and that of Christianity and the traditional religions is that it is entirely based on happiness in this one and only life and not concerned with a realm of supernatural immortality and the glory of God. Humanism denies the philosophical and psychological dualism of soul and body and contends that a human being is a oneness of mind, personality, and physical organism. Christian insistence on the resurrection of the body and personal immortality has often cut the nerve of effective action here and now, and has led to the neglect of present human welfare and happiness.”

—-Corliss Lamont, “The Affirmative Ethics of Humanism,” The Humanist, March/April 1980

Compiled by Eleanor Wroblewski

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