Bertrand Russell (1926) on Fear and Fearless

Bertrand Russell, the great UK philosopher, wrote a 1926 book "On Education" with implications for especially early childhood rearing, socialization and education (e.g., schooling). Interestingly, I am just reading this for the first time, and I see some really good signs that this will be a useful book in the history of Fear Studies, and especially the history of fear in educational philosophy. 

Russell has evoked me several times to quote him (from this book), especially his line around wisdom and fear, and around fearless mothers and fearless children as well. For purposes of this blog, I want to focus on why he thought love and fear were so crucial to child rearing and society's health in general. He ends his book with "A thousand ancient fears obstruct the road to happiness and freedom." (p. 206) During the book he makes a distinction that irrational fears are the biggest problem, rational fears are important--albeit, a big problem can come when a child, for example, has not the adequate rational fears online and operative and that puts the child at risk to dangers it normally would rationally be afraid of. He talks about his wife and him trying out many of these things about fear management with their own two children in the earliest years 1-4 yr olds. 

Again, on the final paragraph of the book he wrote, "But love can conquer fear, and if we love our children nothing can make us withold the great gift which is is in our power to bestow." (p. 206). One has to realize that Russell was a secularist-humanist philosopher, yet, here he is articulating what all the great spiritual/religious teachings also argue as a basic premise/theory about love and fear. That's a whole topic for study itself. Is this true, that love can conquer fear? What does conquer mean? On p. 71 he describes how an irrational fear in children (or anyone) ought to not be left alone to just disappear or skirt around too much. Russell says it "should be gradually overcome" as an important aspect of healthy developmental growth and learning. "Overcome" as a behavioral and emotional aspect, seems to be what Russell means by "conquer" in other parts of his text. 

In helping his own children to overcome fear(s), Russell tells us at one point, controversial I am sure it will be: "A grown-up [e.g., parent, teacher] person in charge of a child should never feel fear" --meaning, express it it in front of a child and when trying to teach a child to have mild rational fear of a potential danger the child needs to learn about (e.g., like a sharp knife edge, or cliff edge). Now, if an adult around a child is to be fully responsible for the best interests and growth and learning for a child, and to make them feel loved and not afraid of the world around them too much, then Russell argues it is best to "never feel" or express fear in your teaching children lessons or warnings. I tend to agree with this because of the unpredictable (if not traumatic) ways a child may take in the concrete message from the adult but also the affect-tracing lingerings of the adult into their emotional (if not soul level) aspects of their being. Adults have that kind of powerful impact potential on children's psyche/soul, is my claim, and many others but here we see Russell the philosopher (and father) saying the same thing. His cautionary goes on to say: " That is one reason why courage should be cultivated in women just as much as in men." (p. 72). There's a few arguments he makes later in the book about the sexes and the dynamics of fear and timidity, etc. He wants both sexes to be hardy and courageous --and even fearless. Again, he focuses at times on women's major role here in child development of fearlessness: 

"One generation of fearless women could transform the bringing into it a generation of fearless children".... and "Education is the key" to this accomplishment. On my part, that is true and is exactly why I offer an upgraded theory and praxis called critical Fear Management/Education or simply Fear Education for the 21st century. Russell's philosophy of education, it turns out, is very supportive of my initiative. 

Anyone have some thoughts about all this?


Russell, B. (1926/2003). On education. Routledge.






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  • Caro professor Fisher, anche nel saggio del 1930, La conquista della felicità, Russel comprende - come tu ben scrivi - what all the great spiritual/religious teachings also argue as a basic premise/theory about love and fear.

    Egli scrive: “Un uomo che ha imparato a non provare paura, trova diminuita di molto la fatica della vita quotidiana. Ora la paura, nelle sue forme più nocive, nasce quando vi è qualche pericolo che non vogliamo affrontare”. Educare con amore è anche preparare le nuove generazioni ad affrontare l'imponderabile, che deve essere atteso con razionalità... 

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