Hugh Hefner, the legendary founder of Playboy, died this week at the age of 91, proving once-and-for-all the adage that “only the good die young.” Hefner leaves behind countless former and current concubines. Hailed as a media icon, Hefner had the ability to corral plaudits from pleasure seekers on both the Left and Right. Upon his death, Fox News even lauded Hefner’s commitment to upholding free speech (which is the eulogizing equivalent of claiming that one read Playboy “for the articles”).
It also has the unfortunate effect of whitewashing history.
Over the years, stories about Hefner’s shoddy treatment of his “bunnies” trickled out from time to time but never managed to dispel the mystique of “Hef.” By all those accounts, Hefner was a predator: preying on vulnerable young women’s hopes and fears; sweeping them up in fame, and then essentially making them permanent members of his harem (until they aged out, of course).
Yet Hefner was no mere hedonist. He was the leader of a socio-political movement. As the Boston Globe put it, Hefner was “the founding father of the sexual revolution.” Throughout the 1960s, Hefner spent much time and effort validating this claim.
In a famous 1966 interview with William F. Buckley, Jr. on “Firing Line,” Buckley asked Hefner if he rejected “conventional Judeo-Christian codes of sexual behavior?” Hefner replied:
At the essence of them [Judeo-Christian sexual codes of conduct], yes, I think I do. The [Playboy] philosophy, really, I think, is an anti-Puritanism. A response to the Puritan part of our culture. So, to that extent, it’s a part of the Judeo-Christian ethic that I think got lost and is restricted, and not truly naturalistic.
Hefner saw himself as a revolutionary. Indeed he was a revolutionary in the mold of Saul Alinsky. Both men targeted the traditional, “puritanical” mores of America’s middle class in order to instigate their revolutions. Alinsky sought the destruction of the middle class because he, like all Marxists, viewed the middle class as an obstacle to true equality. Hefner merely viewed them as an obstacle to what he might have called “true freedom”—a concept his limited imagination seemed to equate with doing whatever pleases you.
In Alinsky’s case, he sought to use class warfare masked in the rhetoric of guilt to shame America’s middle class into embracing a self-destructive Alinskyite ethos. They could assuage their guilt by giving concessions to the state that would bring about greater equality. Hefner tempted his mostly middle-class audience to embrace his toxic lifestyle by sharing with them images evoking lust and lasciviousness. Just as the Alinskyites decoupled America’s middle class from its traditional values of work and thrift, so too did Playboy obliterate the American view that women were to be upheld and cherished, as both wives and mothers. Instead, women came to be viewed (and viewed themselves) as nothing more than disposable estrogen toys for men.
Whether Hefner realized it or not, he was also a fellow insurgent in the great Marxist revolution that swept across the United States in the 1960s. Whereas Alinsky spoke of equality to shield his movement from criticism, Hefner employed the language of “free speech” to mask his true objective: to create a new sexual morality based solely on short-term physical pleasure. In so doing, Hefner helped launch the pornography craze that has since reached epidemic levels, consistently destroying once-healthy relationships throughout America, disrupting civil society, and, incidentally, eclipsing Hefner’s media empire.
Alinsky and Hefner both sought to destroy what were once considered timeless truths and replace them with fleeting, materialistic falsehoods. Socialism was Alinsky’s cause; for Hefner, it was chauvinism. But, Hefner’s goal was not only obscene, it also comported well with the larger objectives of Alinsky. Playboy and the “lifestyle” it advocated decimated the role of women in American culture by reducing the civilizing importance of intimacy in sexuality. By tearing apart the traditional male-female relationship, Hefner’s Playboy fueled the Left’s greater destruction of our culture. Severing the traditional bonds between the American middle class was an Alinskyite tactic, too. In both cases, Hefner and Alinsky dissolved our trust and respect for one another, hoping to fill that void with their ideas.
In Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville observed that America’s civic religion and its women were the true sources of its power. Tocqueville said of American women:
I do not hesitate to avow that although the women of the United States are confined within the narrow circle of domestic life, and their situation is in some respects one of extreme dependence, I have nowhere seen woman occupying a loftier position; and if I were asked, now that I am drawing to the close of this work, in which I have spoken of so many important things done by the Americans, to what the singular prosperity and growing strength of that people ought mainly to be attributed, I should reply: To the superiority of their women.
In many respects, Hefner’s revolution succeeded. Now that men and women fail to recognize the inherent dignity of the other or the role of intimacy in sexual relations, family formation (and, therefore, the backbone of a vibrant middle class) has been damaged permanently. Thanks to this, the Left can continue to wage its unremitting war upon traditional America. Remember that the next time that Anderson Cooper waxes sorrowful over Hefner’s passing.
Revolutions truly do make strange bedfellows!
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