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Thursday, August 10, 2006

Ned Lamont and Corliss Lamont.

I am not paying particular attention to the blog-inflamed Senate race in Connecticut, where Ned Lamont just defeated the incumbent Joseph Lieberman. While reading Jacob Weisberg's latest article on how Lamont's victory means trouble for Democrats in November, I noticed something I hadn't before: Lamont's great uncle was the Humanist philosopher Corliss Lamont, who probably still means a great deal to a certain generation of Unitarian Universalists. Hey Fausto, wouldn't you love to tell us more about Corliss? And does anyone know how Humanism played out in the Lamont clan?

(It seems I'm very slowly returning from my sabbatical.)

Update 8.15.06: Be sure to read Fausto's excellent responses below.

Copyright © 2006 by Philocrites | Posted 10 August 2006 at 5:41 PM

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August 10, 2006 06:20 PM | Permalink for this comment

Ned Lamont, of course: I've corrected my misspelling of his name.

Bill Baar:

August 10, 2006 08:20 PM | Permalink for this comment

Here's Klehr and Hynes on a reference by Earl Browder in the Soviet Comintern archives to Corliss Lamont,

The Nazi-Soviet alliance of 1939 actually caused a few members and supporters (e.g. Frederik Pohl) to reconsider. It will be no surprise that the CPUSA unconditionally supported it nevertheless. Document 15 [pp. 81-3] contains the Comintern orders to Earl Browder on the proper line to take in the struggle, and Document 16 [pp. 83-4] discusses the selection of fellow-travelers who would be suitable for disseminating the new Soviet line. One is Isaac Asimov's "grand old man of humanism", Corliss Lamont. Eugene Lyons had a less complimentary view of him, and this document would support Lyons over Asimov.

And the Communist-Troskyist, George Novack, recalling Corliss Lamont during the purge trials ...

The difficulties of maintaining a periodical of Marxist theory which included all the Left currents of thought in the mid-thirties was demonstrated by the brief career of the Marxist Quarterly. This magazine, almost wholly subsidized by Corliss Lamont, was organized during 1936 by a coalition of prominent intellectuals representing the Lovestonites, the Trotskyists, left-wing Socialists and some independent figures who inclined to one or another of these tendencies.
The first issue came out early in 1937. No sooner had it appeared than the second of the Moscow Trials was staged and the furor around them and the Dewey Commission of Inquiry reached fever pitch. This split the board down the middle. The Trotskyists (Burnham and I) and Zam resigned. That left the Lovestone grouping together with Lamont. However, when the idol of the Lovestonites, Bukharin, was indicted, they finally recognized the frame-up character of the trials. Meanwhile Corliss Lamont, as chairman of the Friends of the Soviet Union, was zealously defending them. These developments gave the coup de grace to the Marxist Quarterly.

Leaving Corliss defending a bullet in the head for Bukharin.

I considered myself part of the non-Stalinist left in the 60s. You have to have spent time with Communists to appreciate some of this.

Here's Sydny Hook,

More than any other series of events abroad, the Moscow Trials of 1936-37 were a turning point in the history of American liberalism. They were a turning point in my own political and intellectual development as well. The Moscow Trials taught me that any conception of socialism that rejected the centrality of moral values was only an ideological disguise for totalitarianism.

...Despite my own growing disillusion with the Soviet bureaucracy, its despotism and terror against dissenters, Lamont remained completely unmoved by doubts and criticisms...

...The simple truth is that among large if not dominant sectors of American liberal opinion, when it came to evaluating events in the Soviet Union, the will to believe-or perhaps it would be more accurate to say the will to illusion -prevailed over ascertainable fact and rational analysis......

Hook goes on about Lamont abandoning American leftist during the Smith Act trials of the 1940's when the Nazi's became the enemy again. A friend of mine: Dr. Virgil Vogel, went to prison during those years because he thought WWII an Imperalist War. So, Lamont, and his times are vivid for me.


August 11, 2006 03:33 PM | Permalink for this comment

Be sure to read Michael Tomasky's response to Jacob Weisberg.


August 14, 2006 09:22 PM | Permalink for this comment

Hey Fausto, wouldn't you love to tell us more about Corliss? And does anyone know how Humanism played out in the Lamont clan?

My grandfather took his PhD under John Dewey, and later taught on the faculty with him, at Columbia University Teacher's College in the early 1900's. One of Dewey's and my grandfather's star students was Corliss Lamont, a son of J. P. Morgan's partner Thomas Lamont, who also joined the Columbia faculty, and went on to become one of the early leaders of the Humanist movement and a leading civil libertarian during the McCarthy era. The Columbia liberal religious milieu at the time was a yeasty one, and included not only Dewey and Lamont but also Sophia Lyons Fahs and Riverside Church's Harry Emerson Fosdick.

One of my mother's best friends in grade school was Corliss's daughter. The two families were so close that my mother called him "Uncle Corliss". My mother remembers discussing religion with Lamont, but she remembers even more vividly visiting his parents at their estate on the Palisades in New Jersey, where Corliss's mother took pity on her plebeian origins and taught her the fine points of etiquette. (As a result of my mother's training chez Lamont, I myself knew how to set a proper dinner table, complete with salad and dessert forks and soup and dessert spoons and extra glasses and other junk, by the time I was 8.)

As far as I know, Corliss was seen by the rest of his family as something of an eccentric on religious matters. (His parents were devout upper-class Presbyterians.) Because he advocated individual freethinking as opposed to collective religious affiliation, I don't know that he had any particular influence on subsequent generations of Lamonts, especially those who were not in his direct line of descent. However, the same intellectual environment that influenced both him and my grandfather certainly oriented my mother to a certain way of thinking and perceiving, and me through her, and I would guess something similar might have occurred in Corliss's family.

In any event, in a case of what must be either coincidence or serendipity or synchronicity, one of Corliss's great-nieces, Ned's cousin, now serves with me on my congregation's Worship Committee. And in a case of the sins of the fathers being visited for many generations, I taught Sunday school to her daughter, Corliss's great-great-niece, last year. (The subject? Church history from the Resurrection to the UUA merger, with emphasis on heterodoxy and dissent through the ages -- something like the UUA's curriculum "Heresy Apparent", but hopefully more objective and less polemical.) The week we did Humanism was a blast.


August 14, 2006 09:47 PM | Permalink for this comment

As to the political issues Bill recalls, I'm vaguely aware of Corliss's radical socialist politics (which were not all that unusual among academic types in the 1930's), and that he was embrioled in controversy from time to time in consequence of his politics, but my mother doesn't specifically remember his political entanglements nearly as well as his Humanist philosophical contributions. (Her father was a populist liberal Republican or independent, and her mother was a labor-sympathizing independent or Democrat, but neither of them were as pink as many of their faculty colleagues. Corliss to my mother was just one among many of her parents' friends who were much pinker than her parents were.)

I think Corliss's politics were unique to himself and his time. I'm almost certain he didn't light a political torch within the family that Ned is now picking up and carrying forward. Ned strikes me more as a genial patrician who thinks that society should be fair, and that he has a duty to give back, than as an ideological scion of a Bolshevik fellow traveler.

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