Of all the surprising reactions to the death of the publisher of Playboy, perhaps the most surprising were those from some social conservatives who praised Hugh Hefner for his politically incorrect commitment to, among other things, the difference between the sexes. Ross Douthat has no patience for this argument:
Needless to say, obituaries for Hefner, even if they acknowledge [his] seaminess, have been full of encomia for his great deeds: Hef the vanquisher of puritanism, Hef the political progressive, Hef the great businessman and all the rest. There are even conservative appreciations, arguing that for all his faults Hef was an entrepreneur who appreciated the finer things in life and celebrated la différence.
What a lot of garbage. Sure, Hefner supported some good causes and published some good writers. But his good deeds and aesthetic aspirations were ultimately incidental to his legacy. . . .
His success as a businessman showed the rotten side of capitalism—the side that exploits appetites for money, that feeds leech-like on our vices, that dissolves family and religion while promising that consumption will fill the void they leave behind. The social liberalism he championed was of the rotten and self-interested sort, a liberalism of male and upper-class privilege, in which the strong and beautiful and rich take their pleasure at the expense of the vulnerable and poor and not-yet-born. . . .
And his appreciation of male-female difference was rotten, too—the leering predatory sort of appreciation, the Cosby-Clinton-Trump sort, the sort that . . . rents the charms of youth to escape the realities of age.
No doubt what Hefner offered America somebody else would have offered in his place, and the changes he helped hasten would have come rushing in without him. But in every way that mattered he made those changes worse, our culture coarser and crueler and more sterile than liberalism or feminism or freedom of speech required.