“Mr. Hefner’s magazine is most widely known for its total exposure of the human female,” says William F. Buckley, introducing the guest on this 1966 broadcast of his talk show Firing Line. “Though of course other things happen in its pages.” Not long before, publisher and pleasure empire-builder Hugh Hefner’s Playboy magazine ran a series of articles on “the Playboy philosophy,” a set of observations of and propositions about human sexuality that provided these men fodder for their televised debate. Hefner stands against religiously mandated, chastity-centered codes of sexual morality; Buckley demands to know how Hefner earned the qualifications to issue new codes of his own. Describing the Playboy philosophy as “sort of a hedonistic utilitarianism,” Buckley tries simultaneously to understand and demolish these 20th-century revisions of the rules of sex.
“The Playboy founder is no match for the Catholic who snipes him at will with ‘moral’ bullets,” writes the poster of the video. “The acerbic, dry Buckley is on attack mode with a conservative audience, in moral panic, behind him. The Catholic had the era of conservatism behind him. [ … ] In the 21st century though, Buckley (passed 2008) would have a harder time defending morality with Hefner.” One wonders how, were Buckley still alive, he and Hefner might approach these issues were they to revisit this debate today. Times have certainly changed, but I suspect Buckley would raise the same core objection to Hefner’s argument that loosening the old strictures on sex leads, perhaps counterintuitively, to more satisfied, more monogamous pairings: “How in the hell do you know?” Though this and certain other of Buckley’s questions occasionally wrong-foot Hefner, the faithful can rest assured that he keeps enough cool to fire up his signature pipe on camera.