Even when beliefs and attitudes that are seen as “Western” are largely a reflection of present-day circumstances in Europe and North America, there is a tendency—often implicit—to interpret them as age-old features of the “Western tradition” or of “Western civilization.” One consequence of Western dominance of the world today is that other cultures and traditions .are often identified and defined by their contrasts with contemporary Western culture.
Different cultures are thus interpreted in ways that reinforce the political conviction that Western civilization is somehow the main, perhaps the only, source of rationalistic and liberal ideas-among them analytical scrutiny, open debate, political tolerance, and agreement to differ. The West is seen, in effect, as having exclusive access to the values that lie at the foundation of rationality and reasoning, science and evidence, liberty and tolerance, and of course rights and justice.
Once established, this view of the West, seen in confrontation with the rest, tends to vindicate itself. Since each civilization contains diverse elements, a non-Western civilization can then be characterized by referring to those tendencies that are most distant from the identified “Western” traditions and values. These selected elements are then taken to be more “authentic” or more “genuinely indigenous” than the elements that are relatively similar to what can be found also in the West.