Lasker's Struggle

Aug 3, 2009, 6:10 PM |

   The eminent Bishop Berkeley, friend to all, recently sent me Struggle, the English translation of Emanuel Lasker's 1907 treatise Kampf. He also guided me towards a 1930 article in the New York Times by Albert Einstein called Science and Religion

   In spite of my initial hesitation and possible trepidation, I read and tried to assimilate the article and book, both of which I found extremely captivating, if somewhat hard to compartmentalize and explain.

   Einstein and Lasker became acquainted in later life. Unlike the Bishop Berkeley, I'm not of a strong philosophical bent, but he reminded me of Paul Morphy's admonition that, "chess is eminently and emphatically the philosopher's game."  

   Emmanuel Lasker must have felt so too. Albert Einstein, in his foreword to the English edition of The Life of a Chess Masterby Dr. Jacques Hannak, wrote:
". . . the chess playing of a master ties him to the game, fetters his mind and shapes it to a certain extent so that his internal freedom and ease, no matter how strong he is, must inevitably be affected. In our conversations and in the reading of his philosophical books, I always had that feeling. Of these books, The Philosophy of the Unattainable interested me the most; the book is not only very original, but it also affords a deep insight into Lasker's entire personality."

   Einstein had a remarkable, and well-expressed, conception of religion. According to his NY Times article there are three levels of religion: the primitive level, one of fear;  the providence level, where man seeks for a God that loves, provides for, punishes (a social-moral religion);  and the cosmic level that "feels the individual destiny as an imprisonment and seeks to experience the totality of existence as a unity full of significance" and which "recognizes neither dogmas nor God made in man's image." 

   Einstein added, "Science, in consequence, has been accused of undermining morals - but wrongly.  The ethical behavior of man is better based on sympathy, education and social relationships, and requires no support from religion.  Man's plight would, indeed, be sad if he had to be kept in order through fear of punishment and hope of rewards after death."

   Lasker, on the other hand, begins his book Struggle,  "It is an old reflction that life is a struggle. . . .The riddles of the cosmos can therefore be solved in one way only ; by investigating the course and outcome of struggles."

   Einstein, in his foreward to The Life of a Chess Master, had this to say about Lasker:  "To my mind, there was a tragic note in his personality, despite his fundamentally affirmative attitude towards life. The enormous psychological tension, without which nobody can be a chess master, was so deeply interwoven with chess that he could never entirely rid himself of the spirit of the game, even when he was occupied with philosophic and human problems."

   Lasker was a single-minded, if brilliant, individual. Einstein noticed this also and wrote: "[I] came to know him well in the course of many walks in which we exchanged opinions about the most varied questions. It was a somewhat one-sided exchange, in which I received more that I gave. For it was usually more natural for this eminently productive man to shape his own thoughts than to busy himself with those of another."

   In Kampf, Lasker wrote:  "Hope and Faith, such as we have stated it to be, perform a necessary and valuable function.    When our life presents hardships, when we cannot master the difficulties, and doubts of our ability discourage us, hope tell us to do our best and to wait.  When we are in the presence of immense forces and a sense of our insignificance assails us, faith whispers into our ear not to fear injustice.  Hope and faith still beat when will and reason cannot overcome obstacles, and therefore doubt and anxiety make the heart tremble."

   Lasker further postulated that all men are born with hope, but true faith must be developed. True faith is based on justice and not an end to itself, nor is true faith the "expression of a wish for the greatest happiness even though we have done nothing to deserve it. But when they have done their best, then they should have faith and not fear. It is to the worker that faith, the harbinger of peace, is a real blessing. But those who look upon faith as an end in itself without using will and reason to the utmost extent do not satisfy the demands of justice."

While Lasker's book delved deeply into all phases of life and struggles, I limited myself here to his sections on religion, work and justice.