There's an essay well worth your attention here on the claim that the novel is the 'characteristic genre of democracy'. The essay is by Christopher J. Voparil, who sets out a case for the view that Richard Rorty's anti-foundationalist pragmatism provides an excellent framework for understanding the democratic virtues of fiction. Voparil's argument is at once illuminating in certain ways and, in my own view, wrong on one philosphical point, but this a crucial one.
The value of Rorty's conception of the power of the novel... resides in the epistemological egalitarianism it embodies and its orientation toward social change. What makes the power of [the] novel democratic for Rorty is that it is consistent with rejecting "the idea that anything could have authority over the members of a democratic community save the free, collective decisions of that community".
Accordingly, the novel is said to help put us in relations to others that are 'not mediated by questions of truth'; 'to bring excluded voices into... the "conversation of mankind"'; to broaden our (perhaps previously too limited) conception of who can be members of the community of conversation; to enable us 'to see other human beings as "one of us" rather than as "them"'. It does so by means of narrative, detailed description, sentimental education, through which we come to perceive the great variety of human life. All of this represents a turn away from 'the idea that morality is a matter of applying general principles'.
What I think is right and important here is the emphasis on imaginative identification with others and the influence it can have on moral perception. There is no doubt that an ability to empathize with the situation of others is a factor in caring about injustices done to them and being engaged by a politics addressed to remedying these. Conversation is a central resource and method in any healthy democracy, and so showing - showing in detail - the different potential participants in the human conversation reinforces the commitment to seeing such others as beings of equal moral standing, different as they may be in many respects. That fictional narrative enables a view of others 'from within' has become a truism, but that is because it is true.
So, what's the catch? The catch, I contend, is that in Rorty's conception, and Christopher Voparil's account of it, there is what you might call a concealed foundation - something that, philosophically, is not supposed to be there (because these writers are anti-foundationalists) but just 'emerges' nonetheless, without any fanfare, without even quiet acknowledgement, as if (by change of metaphor from architectural to agent-related) scratching its head to find itself where it is.
For it just so happens that the boundaries of the desired conversation are such as to include all of humankind. Not any sub-population; not men, not people of some particular nationality or ethnicity or religion; no, humanity as a whole. Which is fine by me and by you, and indeed obligatory to any genuinely democratic outlook. But neither Rorty nor Voparil explains why narrative, or conversation and sentiment, reach precisely to there, rather than stopping somewhere else, within narrower limits. For all the powers of fiction, indeed because of them, nothing at all dictates that its boundaries, in any given case, any given narrative, must be universal; narrative is perfectly capable of dealing in exclusions as well as inclusions. Why, then, humanity as a whole? To answer this requires forms of general reasoning; and Rorty, it should be said, engaged in that, despite himself.