The “methods of barbarism” and the “rights of small nations” are perhaps the most recognizable of British slogans arising out of the wars of the early twentieth century. They are instantly associated with the Boer War and the First World War respectively, but seldom are they associated with each other. However, the Pro-Boer rhetoric of “the methods of barbarism” and the First World War propaganda of “the rights of small nations” are intimately linked through their roots in the pluralist Liberal vision of Britishness.
These slogans and the propaganda campaigns that they epitomized must be understood within the context of a multicultural Britain and opposing notions of British national identity. Defining “barbarism” as the oppression of small nations through the brutal use of force, the Pro-Boers associated the term with the Anglocentric vision of the British nation reflected in the “New Imperialism” of the Conservatives. Through their belief in Anglo-Saxon racial superiority, the Conservative imperialists maintained that small nations like those of the Irish, the Welsh, and the Boers would either be assimilated or swept aside by the historical progress of an expanding Anglo-Saxon nation state. In contrast to this notion of Conservative “barbarism,” the Pro-Boer Liberals drew on the Gladstonian heritage of their party in defining the United Kingdom as a multinational state at the center of a multinational empire. They eschewed the use of force in the maintenance of empire and argued that the bonds of imperialism must be based upon mutual goodwill, voluntarism, and the recognition of the principle of nationality.
When the First World War broke out in 1914, propagandists drew upon these contrasting constructions of Liberal cultural pluralism and Conservative cultural uniformity. In terms similar to those employed by the Pro-Boers, British propagandists depicted the First World War as a struggle against German “barbarism” and as a fight to vindicate the “rights of small nations.” Solidly based upon the Liberal construction of the multicultural and multinational nature of Britishness, Britain's role as the champion of the principle of nationality was proclaimed with an eye not only to the international context of Europe but to the domestic context of the British state and empire as well.