Corliss Lamont (1902 – 1995) was born into wealth but spent his life fighting for people who weren’t wealthy. He fought and won battles over civil rights and added his voice to the Humanist consensus. He authored the seminal introductory book about Humanism titled “The Philosophy of Humanism” in 1949, which at the time of his death, was in its eighth edition. He didn’t just talk about Humanism, he lived the philosophy.
Lamont served as director of the American Civil Liberties Union from 1932 to 1954. Lamont’s politics was firmly on the left and as the Communist hysteria took over this country after World War II, he fought for basic civil rights for us all. He stood up to Senator Joseph McCarthy and later won court cases against the Postmaster General, FBI, and CIA for their unlawful surveillance. Lamont was a fighter for rights and he asked us all to do the same:
“My final word is that in the battles that confront us today for America’s freedom and welfare, our chief aim as public-spirited citizens must be neither to avoid trouble, nor to stay out of jail, nor even to preserve our lives, but to keep on fighting for our fundamental principles and ideals.”
– from his memoirs, “Yes to Life” rev. edition (1991)
It was Humanism that Corliss Lamont should also be known for. He started to be outspoken about Humanism in the 1940’s. He joined the American Humanist Association in 1941. He also served as President, was one of the original signers of Humanist Manifesto II and received the Humanist of the Year Award in 1971. Not to mention the thousands of published words he wrote in support of Humanism including the book “The Philosophy of Humanism”:
To define twentieth-century humanism briefly, I would say that it is a philosophy of joyous service for the greater good of all humanity in this natural world and advocating the methods of reason, science, and democracy. While this statement has many profound implications, it is not difficult to grasp. Humanism in general is not a way of thinking merely for professional philosophers, but is also a credo for average men and women seeking to lead happy and useful lives.
I also think his essay “The Affirmative Ethics of Humanism” is timeless because in this time of current battles with overtly religious behavior in the military, this seems all too familiar:
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.
Thus, Monsignor William T. Greene, a Catholic prelate in the United States, stated in reference to the Korean War of 1950-1953, that “death in battle was part of God’s plan for populating the kingdom of heaven.” And a captain in the US Army wrote me, in criticism of my book, The Illusion of Immortality, that it could ruin the morale of our soldiers by taking away their belief in an afterlife. “We in the Army,” he said, “regard death as no more important than a nosebleed.” Such apologies for international war are, in my opinion, downright immoral.
More information about Corliss Lamont, including many of his writings including “The Philosophy of Humanism” as a PDF file, is available at:
Some time ago I wrote a post highlighting Lamont’s 10 Points of Humanism. I find the list useful for people wanting to know what Humanism is about.