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The Greatest Speech since Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address


  • Education
  • Behaviour change
  • Social brain
  • Communities
  • Social networks
  • Social justice

"Some are born posthumously", said Nietzsche, and the acuity of this remark hit me on learning of the death of Jimmy Reid.

"Some are born posthumously", said Nietzsche, and the acuity of this remark hit me on learning of the death of Jimmy Reid.

Frankly, I had never heard of him. I am a relatively Anglicised Scot and it is not the first time that an important part of my heritage had passed me by.  With such a name, it was no surprise to hear he hailed from Govan, but he might have been Rab C Nesbitt's neighbour for all I knew.

Then I read that his funeral was attended by Alex Ferguson, Billy Connolly, Gordon Brown, and my step-father, Ray, and I figured he was somebody I ought to know more about. You don't need to be a social networks expert to understand that anybody attracting such a diverse range of stars (yes, you too Ray) probably made a big impact on the world. The funeral proceedings are available on I Player, with Billy Connolly's amusing and heartfelt address around 1:08 (available until Thursday 3pm).


So who was Jimmy Reid?  I still don't really know, but I have read the early 21st century shortcut and the quick answer is Trade Union Activist, Labour Movement Leader, Journalist, Writer, Thinker, Rector of Glasgow University and resolute Lefty. He educated himself at Govan library, and became one of the most articulate and compelling intellectuals of his era. The most striking fact in his biography, to my mind, is that his inaugural address as Rector of Glasgow University, 'Alienation',  was printed in full in the New York Times, who described it as "the greatest speech since Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg address."

The most quoted aspect of the speech is his comment on 'the rat race':

"To the Students I address this appeal. Reject these attitudes. Reject the values and false morality that underlie these attitudes. A rat race is for rats. We're not rats. We're human beings. Reject the insidious pressures in society that would blunt your critical faculties to all that is happening around you, that would caution silence in the face of injustice lest you jeopardise your chances of promotion and self-advancement. This is how it starts and before you know where you are, you're a fully paid-up member of the rat-pack. The price is too high. It entails the loss of your dignity and human spirit. Or as Christ put it, "What doth it profit a man if he gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his soul?"

Socialism may be out of fashion, or even ideologically discredited, but you don't have to be a Socialist to be moved by the clarity of Jimmy Reid's convictions.  If you do nothing else today but read this speech, it will be a day well spent.

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