Fear Defeats More People than Any Other One Thing in the World

Ralph Waldo Emerson? Elbert Hubbard? Napoleon Bonaparte? Dale Carnegie? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: Self-help books encourage people to act with confidence and assurance because apprehension can block progress. I once read the following motivational statement:

Fear defeats more people than any other one thing in the world.

These words were attributed to the famous transcendentalist philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson. I am skeptical of the ascription because I have not been able to find a citation. Would you please help?

Quote Investigator: This saying has been ascribed to Emerson, Elbert Hubbard, Napoleon Bonaparte and others. QI has not yet located substantive evidence identifying the creator; he or she remains anonymous. This article presents a snapshot of current research.

The earliest close match located by QI appeared in an advertisement for “The Emma Dunn Method of Adult Education” printed in the “Los Angeles Times” in 1936. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

YOU WILL CONQUER FEAR
“Fear defeats more men than any other one thing in the world,” says Elbert Hubbard.

Elbert Hubbard founded a New York artisan community called Roycroft. He was known for creating, collecting, and popularizing adages. However, he died in 1915, and QI has not yet found any direct evidence during his lifetime that he authored this saying.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Emerson did write about the importance of overcoming fears, but QI has not found a close match for the saying under examination. The following thematically germane excerpt is from an essay titled “Courage” published in 1870: 2

He has not learned the lesson of life who does not every day surmount a fear. I do not wish to put myself or any man into a theatrical position, or urge him to ape the courage of his comrade. Have the courage not to adopt another’s courage.

Hubbard also did write on the theme of overcoming fears, e.g., in “The Philistine” journal in 1907 he said: 3

Abolish fear and every man and woman is an orator and an artist.

In 1917 an essay about fear titled “The Prime Enemy in Business” by J. R. McCleskey appeared in a trade journal for pharmacists. It is possible to condense the prolix statements to yield this: [fear] is . . . doing more to defeat . . . success and human happiness than any other one thing: 4

Fear is without question the prime enemy in business, and is likewise the greatest enemy to human happiness, progress and success. . . .

Therefore let’s set our face to the task of destroying in our individual consciousness this prime enemy which is today doing more to defeat business success and human happiness than any other one thing.

In 1936 the saying was attributed to Elbert Hubbard in an advertisement as mentioned previously in this article.

In 1937 “The Evening Sun” of Baltimore, Maryland printed an advertisement for “The Granville B. Jacobs Course in Effective Speaking and Influencing People” which included the following: 5

Increase your poise, self confidence and personal magnetism by destroying your fear of an audience. “FEAR,” said Elbert Hubbard, “defeats more men than any other thing”.

In 1937 the famous developer of self-improvement courses Dale Carnegie mentioned the saying in his syndicated newspaper column, and he attributed it to a famous military leader: 6

Napoleon Bonaparte said that fear defeats more men than any other thing in the world.

In 1941 Dale Carnegie mentioned the saying again in his syndicated column, but this time he credited Hubbard: 7

The late Elbert Hubbard said that fear defeats more people than any other thing in the world. Yet almost all of us are afraid at some time or another.

In 1954 the book “How and When to Change Your Job Successfully” by Walter Lowen included the saying with an anonymous attribution: 8

Courage is a quality employers are always seeking but rarely find. It has been truthfully said that fear defeats more people than any other one thing in the world. Worry is so closely akin to fear that only a hairline divides them.

In 1962 the book “The Quick and Easy Way to Effective Speaking” by Dale Carnegie was published with revisions by Dorothy Carnegie. The saying appeared yet again, and the attribution was shifted from Bonaparte and Hubbard to Emerson: 9

Emerson said, “Fear defeats more people than any other one thing in the world.” Oh, how I have been made aware of the bitter truth of that statement. And how grateful I am that during my life I have been able to rescue people from fear.

The 1987 volume “Hidden Power: How to Unleash the Power of Your Subconscious Mind” by James K. Van Fleet included the following: 10

Ralph Waldo Emerson, the American poet, essayist, and philosopher, who lived in the 1800’s, once said, “Fear defeats more people than any other thing in the world.”

In conclusion, the earliest match in 1936 was attributed to Elbert Hubbard, but this evidence was weak because Hubbard died in 1915. Dale Carnegie’s columns and books confusingly credited the saying to Elbert Hubbard, Napoleon Bonaparte, and Ralph Waldo Emerson; however, Carnegie did not present a supporting citation. Based on current knowledge the saying is anonymous. Future researchers may uncover new citations.

(Great thanks to Krista Hanby whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.)

Notes:

  1. 1936 June 3, Los Angeles Times, No High Pressure Salesmanship (Advertisement for The Emma Dunn Method of Adult Education, Hollywood, California), Quote Page 6, Column 5, Los Angeles, California. (Newspapers_com)
  2. 1870, Society and Solitude: Twelve Chapters by Ralph Waldo Emerson, Chapter: Courage, Start Page 225, Quote Page 247, Fields, Osgood, & Company, Boston, Massachusetts.(Google Books Full View) link
  3. 1907 May, The Philistine: A Periodical of Protest, Volume 24, Number 6, Heart to Heart Talks with Philistines by the Pastor of His Flock by Elbert Hubbard, Start Page 176, Quote Page 179, Elbert Hubbard: The Society of the Philistines, East Aurora, New York. (Google Books Full View) link
  4. 1917 December, The Spatula: An Illustrated Magazine for Pharmacists, Volumes 24, Number 3, The Prime Enemy in Business by J. R. McCleskey, Start Page 89, Quote Page 89 and 90, Boston, Massachusetts.(Google Books Full View) link
  5. 1937 March 8, The Evening Sun, Learn to Think on Your Feet Develop More Poise and Confidence (Advertisement for The Granville B. Jacobs Course in Effective Speaking and Influencing People, New York, New York), Quote Page 14, Column 7, Baltimore, Maryland. (Newspapers_com)
  6. 1937 November 25, The Ottawa Evening Citizen, Dale Carnegie Tells of “Tay Pay’s” Interest in Cabbages by Dale Carnegie, Quote Page 8, Column 5, Ottawa, Canada. (Newspapers_com)
  7. 1941 March 17, The Detroit Free Press, How “Teddy” Roosevelt Conquered Fear by Dale Carnegie, Quote Page 3, Column 3, Detroit, Michigan. (Newspapers_com)
  8. 1954, How and When to Change Your Job Successfully by Walter Lowen (Walter Albert Lowen), Chapter 2: The Boss’s-Eye View, Quote Page 31, Simon and Schuster, New York. (HathiTrust Full View)
  9. 1962, The Quick and Easy Way to Effective Speaking by Dale Carnegie, Revision by Dorothy Carnegie, Chapter 2: Developing Confidence, Quote Page 25, Dale Carnegie & Associates, Garden City, New York. (Verified with scans)
  10. 1987, Hidden Power: How to Unleash the Power of Your Subconscious Mind by James K. Van Fleet, Chapter 9: How You Can Use the Power of Your Subconscious Mind To Rid Yourself, of Fears, Worries, and Anxieties Forever, Quote Page 107, Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. (Verified with scans)