Realism v Liberalism

This series of lessons provides an introductory understanding to realism and liberalism and applies these to a case study.

Always use theories carefully, what is presented below is a simplification of complex and subtle schools of thought.

Most importantly, although the title to this page is 'realism versus liberalism', these two theories are not opposites. They agree on a number of underlying principles, for example the state is the most important actor in international relations. These principles allow the two groups, referred to frequently as 'the traditional IR theories' to engage in debate with each other. Meanwhile, critical theories subscribe to different underlying principles and it can be more difficult to create fair debate as the starting perspective is so different.

An example of such a difference is that most traditional IR thinkers obtain knowledge through a postivist approach. This means that they consider there is a 'truth' and that through empirical study, this 'truth' can be identified. Whereas, critical constructivists and critical theorists dispute this and do not consider that there is an ultimate 'truth'. (This is a simplication, if you would like to learn more about the epsitemology and ontology of IR, email me).


Political realism (or realpolitik) is the oldest and most widely adopted theory of international relations.

Like 'liberalism', 'realism' has different meanings in philosophy, science, literature and the arts. Remember that in global politics we are concerned with the international relations theory of realism.

Realism part 1

Slides 1

WS 1 Introduction to Realism_

Worksheet 1


Realism part 2

Slides 2

WS 2 Structural Realism

Worksheet 2

Extension on Realism

The Typologies of Realism article in the Chinese Journal of International Politics:

The Typologies of Realism.pdf

Undergraduate student essay comparing and contrasting classical realism and neorealism: and Contrasting Classical Realism and Neorealism.pdf


Liberalism Part 1 + 2


WS 1 The Rise of Liberalism

Worksheet 1

Liberalism Key Principles

Worksheet 2

Extension on Liberalism

Liberalism and Neo-liberalism.docx

Comparing Realism and Liberalism

Realism and Liberalism 101_ lesson instructions

Lesson Guide

Realism v Liberalism 101

Revision Notes

Realism v Liberalism 101- blank

Blank Note Table

Case Study: China and the United States

This worksheet is adapted from the Oxford textbook: The Globalization of World Politics 7th edition:

Case Study China_ Oxford.docx

Essay title:

"China's rise will be peaceful". Examine the claim from the perspectives of structural realism and neoliberalism. 25 marks.

Essay Realism and Liberalism

Essay Frame

Perspective of offensive neorealism through Mearsheimer

_Mearsheimer_ The Gathering Storm_ China’s Challenge to US Power in Asia.pdf
Can China Rise Peacefully.pdf

Perspective of neoliberalism through Nye.

America still holds the aces in its poker game with China.pdf

Assessment rubric.

GloPo Essay Feedback Template /25m