Professor Ghislain Deslandes published a significant article on the life and work of Economist Adolphe Blanqui, a great European who was the Dean of the school for 24 years.
“Europe’s first historian of political thought, author of the preface to [Adam Smith’s] The Wealth of Nations, and also the first figure to acquire a business school in his lifetime and become its dean, Adolphe Blanqui has nevertheless become a somewhat neglected figure,” explains Professor Ghislain Deslandes in the article he published in the European Management Journal. “As we approach the bicentenary of the school he presided – the oldest of the great 19th century management training institutes, which still exists today – in this essay I propose to place his life and work in context before exploring the principal thrust of his educational philosophy and his lasting heritage.”
“At a time when the singularity of European teaching and research in the field of management sciences is increasingly coming under scrutiny, it seems an opportune moment to re-examine the life and work of one of its intellectual forefathers, a man who did much to establish management studies as a serious academic pursuit, at least in France,” he adds. “For his remarkable personal and intellectual biography, his written oeuvre (over twenty published works), his way with words (the expression ‘Industrial Revolution’ is attributed to him), his reputation as an educator and his views on management training, Adolphe Blanqui’s life and legacy are ripe for rediscovery, particularly in this bicentenary year of the institute, which he helped to develop.”
Ghislain Deslandes manages to get to grips with the underlying pedagogical programme which Blanqui sought to implement at the institution which long bore his name, and to which he attached great importance, even though it remains shrouded in a certain amount of mystery because he left no clear treatise setting out his ideas and theories on the subject of education. “It is worth noting that, by his own admission, Blanqui was more of a ‘propagator’ of the fledgling science of economics than he was an economist in his own right. Nevertheless, as well as being one of the most influential historians of economic thought, he was also one of the discipline’s finest and indisputably influential (certainly in his own day) educators.”
According to him, Blanqui was devoted to certain principles in the education of future entrepreneurs and “traders”: “combatting ugliness, knowing how to deal with difference, leading by example while keeping pace with technological developments: such are the key messages of Blanqui’s work, and his legacy to posterity.” These elements represent the backbone, and reflect the decidedly European character, of Blanqui’s legacy to management teaching and research.
In the third and final section of his article, Ghislain Deslandes looks more closely at some of the key components of Blanqui’s educational philosophy with a view to highlighting potential connections with contemporary research and teaching in business and management, situating them within their geopolitical, aesthetic and ethical context. “This pioneering historian of political economy was a man of many merits, not least of which was his understanding of a truth, which had escaped Adam Smith,” he writes. “Certainly he felt that free trade was a natural remedy to the ‘sickness’ described in his letter to Girardin, but his History of Political Economy also contains the following telling proclamation: ‘We now find ourselves obliged to put the brakes on these gigantic instruments of production, which feed men and yet starve them, clothe and rob them, soothe and destroy them. Accelerating production cannot be our sole objective, as it was in Smith’s day; we now need to govern it, and impose sensible limits’.”
This leads him to claim that Blanqui’s lesson seems more relevant now than ever: “Let us conclude as Blanqui himself would have wished, with that magnificently formulated question. A question which he devoted his life to answering, believing firmly in the importance of training entrepreneurs and ‘traders’ for the development of the political economy, but believing even more forcefully in an educational philosophy that left ample room for aesthetic, ethical and geopolitical considerations.”