At normblog a few days ago there was a nice report on a debate about Western values. More specifically, the motion under debate was: "We should not be reluctant to assert the superiority of Western values." (I found this via Blake Stacey's excellent blog: Science after Sunclipse).
What are Western values? Well, evidently they were defined along the lines of democracy, the rule of law, equality before the law, human rights, freedom of speech and opinion, and self-critical rationalism. I suppose that's a reasonably indicative set of modern, largely liberal values. Of course, there might be others, such as separation of church and state (or however that distinction is best made) and individual liberty (which, arguably, goes beyond any of these without entirely outflanking or subsuming them) and tolerance of differences.
There's also the complication that some of these values have equivalents, or potential precursors, in other traditions. Let's not forget that even such a compelling idea as religious tolerance has taken its current form quite recently; John Locke put a powerful practical justification for it, but we have now gone far beyond Locke, who did not want toleration for Roman Catholics or atheists. Some other cultural and religious traditions may yet have the intellectual resources to accept a broadly-based religious tolerance from within their own viewpoints.
It's reported that Ibn Warraq, a high-profile critic of Islam, and certainly a staunch defender of the relevant Western values, concluded the debate with a zesty punchline: "Finally, I do not wish to live in a society where you are stoned for adultery; I prefer to live in a society where we get stoned first and then commit adultery."
What can I say?