Charlotte Lee
Political Science
Material Type:
Activity/Lab, Lecture, Lesson Plan, Module, Reading
Community College / Lower Division
  • Democracy Promotion
  • International Relations
  • Liberalism
  • Realism
  • Theory
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    Realism and Liberalism


    Module on realism and liberalism in international relations theory. Intended for community college students and aligned with the requirements for POLS 140: Introduction to International Relations within the California Community College system. Includes readings, lesson plan, and ancillary materials (lecture slides and handout).

    Lesson Plan: Realism and Liberalism in International Relations Theory

    Lesson Plan: Realism and Liberalism

    Topic: Thinking Theoretically: Realism and Liberalism

    Week #: 2

    Estimated Time: 150-180 minutes


    Assigned Readings:

    1. Gold, Dana and Stephen McGlinchey. 2017. “International Relations Theory: An Overview.” In International Relations Theory, Stephen McGlinchey, ed. Adapted by Charlotte Lee. (15 pages, core reading)
    2. Antunes, Sandrina and Camisão. 2018. “Realism in International Relations Theory.” In International Relations Theory, Stephen McGlinchey, ed. Adapted by Charlotte Lee. (10 pages, core reading)
    3. Thucydides. “The Melian Dialogue.” In History of the Peloponnesian War (Book 5, Chapters 84-116). Trans. Richard Crawley. London: Spottiswoode and Co., 1874. Available online at (5 pages, core reading)
    4. Meiser, Jeffrey W. 2018. “Liberalism in International Relations Theory.” In International Relations Theory, Stephen McGlinchey, ed. Adapted by Charlotte Lee. (8 pages, core reading)
    5. Lawson, Marian L. and Susan B. Epstein. 2019. “Democracy Promotion: An Objective of U.S. Foreign Assistance.” Congressional Research Service. pp. 1-3, 17-18 (5 pages, briefing)


    Total page count: 43


    Learning Objectives:

    By the end of this lesson plan, students will be able to:

    1. Define key concepts in major international relations theories
    2. Analyze how realists describe and explain behavior in international relations
    3. Analyze how liberals describe and explain behavior in international relations
    4. Evaluate two examples of realist thinking
    5. Examine debates regarding democracy promotion

    Misconceptions of Topic:

    1. Students tend to associate liberalism with holding progressive political views or attitudes
    2. Students might conflate realism in IR with realism in other fields such as art history or literature
    3. Students may associate the term anarchy with rebellion


    Lesson Component


    Lecture: Review learning objectives

    Lecture slides

    Brainstorm/write on board: Was President Obama a realist or liberal? How do we know?


    Lecture: Introduction to theory

    Reading 1

    Lecture slides

    Lecture and discussion: Key concepts in realism



    Reading 2

    Lecture slides


    Instructor resource:

    Machiavelli, Nicolo. 1532 (2016). “Chapter XV - Concerning Things for which Men, and Especially Princes, are Praised or Blamed.” In The Prince, Project Gutenberg EBook. Available online at


    Think Pair Share: Respond to the Melian Dialogue

    Reading 3


    Lecture: Key concepts in liberalism

    Reading 4

    Lecture slides

    Think Pair Share: Debate democracy promotion

    Reading 5

    Prompt in lecture slides

    Compare realism and liberalism

    Lecture slides

    Conclude and wrap-up

    Lecture slides


    Required Readings: Realism and Liberalism


    • Reading #1: Gold and McGlinchey 2017
    • Reading #2: Antunes and Camasião 2018
    • Reading #3: Thucydides (trans. 1874)
    • Reading #4: Meiser 2018
    • Reading #5 Lawson and Epstein 2019

    Introducing the readings:

    This unit’s readings introduce students to two major theories in international relations. To provide an understanding of the role of theory in our understanding of international relations, Gold and McGlinchey (2017) offer a tour of major IR theories. This is intended to be an introductory reading to provide context for studying in more depth the many different theories informing the study of IR today.

    Antunes and Camasão (2018) present an overview of major ideas in realism. To get a sense of the historical reach of realism, as well as realist ideas in action, historian Thucydides (c. 460-c. 400 BCE) offers an interpretation of a dialogue that occurred between Athenians and Melians during an often-studied conflict of the Greek world, the Peloponnesian War (431-404 BCE). While the style of writing in the Melian Dialogue may be unfamiliar to our contemporary senses, realists argue that the ideas in that dialogue are universal across time and space.

    Liberalism offers an alternative vision to realism, and Meiser (2018) provides an introductory text for understanding liberalism. One application of liberalism can be found in global democracy promotion. Lawson and Epstein (2019) offer background on democracy promotion as a foreign policy tool (and objective) of the United States

    Ancillary Materials: Realism and Liberalism

    Attached are CC-licensed lecture slides and a handout to accompany the lesson plan for realism and liberalism.


    • Lecture slides
    • Worksheet