Barrington Moore defines Catonism in his book Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy as "advocacy of the sterner virtues, militarism, contempt for 'decadent' foreigners and anti-intellectualism". Moore coined the word "Catonism" with a nod towards Cato the Elder (234-149 BCE). He characterized the Catonist attitude as the reaction from rural aristocracy towards rapid political and economic changes:
...The function of Catonism is too obvious to require more than brief comment. It justifies a repressive social order that buttresses the position of those in power. It denies the existence of actual changes that have hurt the peasants. It denies the need for further social changes, especially revolutionary ones. Perhaps Catonism may also relieve the conscience of those most responsible for the damage - after all, military expansion destroyed the Roman peasantry.
Modern versions of Catonism arise too out of the adoption by the landed upper classes of repressive and exploitative methods in response to the increasing intrusion of market relationships into an agrarian economy...
- Moore,Jr., Barrington (1993) [First published 1966]. Social origins of dictatorship and democracy: lord and peasant in the making of the modern world (with a new foreword by Edward Friedman and James C. Scott ed.). Boston: Beacon Press. p. 491. ISBN 978-080705073-6.
- Moore, Barrington (March 1967) . Social origins of dictatorship and democracy: Lord and peasant in the making of the modern world. Boston: Beacon Press. p. 491.
The key elements in the rhetoric - advocacy of the sterner virtues, militarism, contempt for 'decadent' foreigners, and anti-intellectualism - appear in the West at least as early as Cato the Elder (234-149 B.C.) who operated his own latifundium with slave labor. It is fitting, therefore, to label this complex of ideas with his name. A similar rhetoric, according to some authorities also in response to a threat to traditional peasant economy, had emerged in China with the legalists, around the 4th century B.C.
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