Political Theory and Literature
Modern professional political theory is there to explore the problems in and of politics. However, since politics is directly about the res publicae, this explorative task is never a prerogative and an exclusive domain of professional political theory. Indeed, it has never been. The greatest classic of political theory, Plato, is best read together with Sophocles. As modern political theorizing began with Hobbes, Shakespeare's plays represent a new beginning of political drama. The genre of utopia is essentially semi-political. Many twentieth-century political theorists have themselves produced literary texts, or have influenced political theory by essays rather than high and dry scientific papers and monographs, or have devoted considerable attention to and commented extensively on literary texts (from Carl Schmitt's Hamlet-essay to Martha C. Nussbaum's The Fragility of Goodness; from Richard Rorty's commentary on Orwell's 1984 to Bernard Williams' book Shame and Necessity, to cite some pieces that are now widely considered as milestones in political theory).
By now, doing political theory by studying literary works has established itself quite firmly, but at major political science events, sections and panels hosting contributions from this field are still a rarity. Thus, what we propose is not a methological section discussing how political theory can be enriched by exploiting literature, but a series of panels that demonstrate how particular issues that appear to be especially relevant in contemporary political theory and political thinking can be approached and analyzed by literary classics, mostly plays and novels.
Issues of great relevance include, in our view, the following ones: first, the problem of tyranny, authoritarian rule, strong leadership; their rise and fall; the logic of authoritarian thinking; its effects on the elites and the political culture of the polity. Notably, in Latin-American literature, the so called dictator-novel has become a genre; the term 'Kafkaesque' is widely used in bureaucracy studies; and it is difficult to think of a better introduction to Stalinism as a political reality than Solzhenitzyn's novels). Secondly, political theology is another promising issue: certain literary works have a great potential to show how modern societies can or cannot cope with the disappearence of religion as a political authority and the emergence of political authorities that have appropriated the theological dimensions of human life. Thirdly, violence in its many forms, especially but not exclusively in dictatorships, within the experiences of minorities; but also within the tormented modern political soul, seems to us an eminently important issue that could be fruitfully discussed by help of literary texts.
Finally, we see a chance at the ECPR being held in Innsbruck that authors having Central and Eastern European roots and perhaps a greater readership can be brought to the attention of the international community of political theorists.