Devout Catholic Paul Ryan's Interest in Voltaire

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Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: Mitt Romney served his mission in France and his pick for Vice President, Paul Ryan, seems to have an interest in at least one French philosopher. Ryan told People Magazine that he listens to audio lectures in his car and he mentioned one in particular on Voltaire. Voltaire was a leading thinker of the 18th Century Enlightenment Movement. He was also a big critic of the Catholic Church, and Paul Ryan is a devout Catholic. Laure Mandeville is Washington correspondent for the French daily, Le Figaro. Laure, let me read you what Ryan told People Magazine when asked what he reads for fun. "I listen to lectures from the Great Courses in the car wherever I go. I'm listening to a great one on Voltaire right now. I enjoy studying the Enlightenment, which is 18th century debate." Did that surprise you?

Laure Mandeville: Actually, I found it, if not surprising, quite refreshing and interesting to hear because it's difficult to quote a politician, either American or French, at the moment who is willing reading Voltaire. It's sort of surprising in this world, so I thought it was quite interesting and showed that Paul Ryan is maybe indeed the intellectual of the right that actually his party has presented him to be.

Werman: Right. So almost in a way just mentioning Voltaire got your attention. This is how comedian Steven Colbert reacted to that quote last week on his program, The Colbert Report

[Clip plays]
Steven Colbert: Yes, the enlightenment was a fascinating "debate" back in the 18th Century about whether science and reason had a role to play in the public sphere. A debate that, to Republicans, rages on to this day.

Werman: Laure, you could see why Steven Colbert jumped on Paul Ryan listening to a tape from these Great Courses about Voltaire. It's kind of a gift for a comedian, but in the articles you've written for Le Figaro, your paper, you've talked about Paul Ryan as a true intellectual. Tell us what you mean.

Mandeville: Yes, I mean from what I've read extensively in American newspapers, both right and left, he has been really qualified everywhere as an intellectual and someone who has been very interested by theories, by substance, but I thought that's it's an interesting pick for the Republican party, especially coming after Sarah Palin who's really quite the opposite of Paul Ryan. And, of course, I understand the point of Steven Colbert in that for Paul Ryan who is a Catholic to say that he's enjoying Voltaire may seem a paradox, but one should not try to encapture Voltaire in a very ideological partisan way because he's against the Catholic Church of that time, he's almost against Islam and Muhammad, but at the same time he was a believe that there was a God; he was a deist. This was really a guy who had a free mind and I think that if Paul Ryan can pick this willingness of Voltaire, to get out of the comfort zone, I think it would be a great asset for the conversation between the right and the left in the Presidential Debate.

Werman: Do you presume Paul Ryan to be an intellectual simply because he listened to a tape about Voltaire?

Mandeville: No, actually I don't know if he is an intellectual in the strict sense of the word. I mean he's still a politician, but he seems to be a policy politician, someone who is interested in ideas that can be debatable, but at least they seem to exist. And I think it's quite good because I think everyone was complaining in this Presidential campaign so far about the lack of ideas and the lack of debate on substance and maybe we're going to have that. As I told you, I don't hear very often that politicians are reading Voltaire, and maybe they should, you know. It would get a more complex and interesting and freed [sounds like] view of the world.

Werman: Laure Mandeville, correspondent for Le Figaro in Washington. Thank you very much.

Mandeville: Thanks.