Interest in literature and the imaginative dimensions of politics has been stimulated in previous decades by the inability of positivism fully to account for the experience of human beings amidst the political and cultural changes of the 1960s. Aspects of important social movements such as the civil rights movement defied the strictures of positivist social science. In the generation that followed, the study of literature grew in prominence along with recognition of the importance of the imagination for a fuller understanding of politics.
In 1993, the American Political Science Association (APSA) added an organized section on “Politics and Literature.” The turn within the discipline to the study of “politics and literature” was attributed to literature’s ability to express and explore dimensions of human existence that precede or are implicit in political engagement as well as its capacity to explore the ramifications of politics for other aspects of human existence. In an article describing the reasons for founding the APSA section, Catherine Zuckert writes,
The questions that led political scientists to look to works of art for enlightenment concern the aspects of human life that are most difficult, if not impossible, to study and observe externally or objectively—the attitudes, emotions, and opinions that shape and are shaped by people’s circumstances, especially their political circumstances.
Recognition that these imaginative intuitions are shaped by literature and its derivatives has produced a plethora of books and articles over the past few decades, as well as a notion that there may be depths to which even philosophy, let alone positivist social science, cannot reach. On occasion, even political philosophy may need to turn to literature for enlightenment.