From C. Virgil Gheorghiu, The Twenty-Fifth Hour


“The mechanical slave,” answered Traian Koruga. “You know him, too, George. The mechanical slave is the servant who waits on us daily in a thousand ways. He drives our car, switches on our light, pours water on our hands when we wash, gives us massage, tells us funny stories when we turn on the radio, lays out roads, breaks up mountains.”


“I had my suspicions that it was merely a poetic metaphor all the time.”


“It’s by no means a mere metaphor, my dear George,” said Traian. “The mechanical slave is a reality. His existence on earth cannot be denied.”


“I’m not denying his existence,” replied the attorney. “But why bring in the word ‘slave’? It is simply a question of mechanical power.”


“Human slaves—that is, the exact equivalent of the mechanical slaves of modern society—were looked on by the Greeks and Romans in just the same way—as a blind force, as inanimate objects. They were bought and sold, given away and killed, and their value was estimated solely in terms of muscle power and capacity for work. We judge our mechanical slaves of today by exactly the same standards.”


“There are big differences, none the less,” said the attorney. “We cannot replace the human slave by the mechanical one.”


“But that is just the point; we can. The mechanical slave has proved both more efficient and less costly than the human slave and is rapidly superseding him. Our ships today are no longer propelled by the efforts of human galley slaves, but by the power of their inanimate successors. And when it gets dark, the rich man—who can afford to own slaves—no longer claps his hands that they may bring in lighted candles, as his ancestor would have done in Rome or Athens; instead he puts out his hand and turns on a switch, and the mechanical slaves light up the room. The mechanical slave lights the fire, heats the house, and warms the water for the bath, opens windows, and creates a draft with a fan. His supreme advantage over his human brother is that he is better trained, hears nothing, and sees nothing. The mechanical slave is never there, save when he is called. He delivers your love letters in a second and carries your voice over land and sea to the very ear of your beloved. The mechanical slave is a perfect servant. He tills the soil, wages war, manages political complexities, keeps order, and runs the administration. He has mastered every human activity and carries it out to perfection. He sits in an office and calculates, he paints, sings, dances, flies in the air, dives down beneath the sea. The mechanical slave has even become executioner. He carries out death sentences, he stands beside the doctor and cures diseases in the hospitals, he helps the priest to celebrate Mass.”


Traian broke off for a moment and raised the glass to his lips. From outside came the even patter of rain.


“I’ll soon come to the end of this digression,” he said. “Personally, I must say, I always feel I am in company even when, to all appearances, I am alone. I can see these robots hovering around me, ever in attendance. They light my cigarette, they tell me what is happening in the world, they show me the road home in the dark. My life has taken on their rhythm. I am more constantly in their company than in that of my fellow men. Sometimes I love them like human beings and am prepared to make sacrifices for their sake. That is why, as Mother just said, I can never stay long in Fantana. My mechanical slaves are waiting for me in Bucharest. We are so much wealthier than our colleagues of two thousand years ago, who owned no more than a dozen or two slaves apiece. We have hundreds, thousands. Now I want to ask you: how many fully active mechanical slaves do you think there are at this moment upon the face of the earth? Several million million at least. And how many are there of us?”


“Two thousand million,” answered the attorney.


“Precisely! The numerical superiority of the mechanical slaves is therefore overwhelming. And, when we realize that the mechanical slaves hold all the key points in the organization of contemporary society, the danger becomes self-evident. To use military terms, the mechanical slaves control the strategic positions of our society: the army, transport, and communications, food supplies and industry, to mention only the most important. The mechanical slaves form a proletariat—if by that we mean a group which, at any given moment in history, exists within a society without being integrated into that society. Man wields the controls. I am not going to write a fantastic novel and so I won’t describe how, one fine day, these millions of millions of mechanical slaves rose up in revolt, herding the human race into concentration camps and prisons and liquidating it on the scaffold or in the electric chair. Revolutions of that sort are achieved only by human slaves. I will keep to facts. And the factual truth is that this mechanical proletariat will bring about its own revolution, without the barricades so essential to its human equivalent. The mechanical slaves form a crushing majority in contemporary society. That is a concrete fact. They exist within the framework of this society, but they function according to their own laws, which are different from human laws. Of the laws governing mechanical slaves, I will mention only three:

automatism, uniformity and anonymity.


“A society which contains millions of millions of mechanical slaves and a mere two thousand million humans—even if it happens to be the humans who govern it—will reveal the characteristics of its proletarian majority. In the Roman Empire the slaves spoke, worshiped, and loved according to the customs they had brought with them from Greece, Thrace, or other occupied countries. The mechanical slaves of our own civilization retain their characteristics and live according to the laws governing their nature. This nature, or, if you prefer it, this technological reality, exists within the framework of contemporary society. Its influence is becoming more and more dominant. In order to make use of their mechanical slaves men are obliged to get to know them and to imitate their habits and laws. Every employer has to learn something of the language and habits of his employees to be able to give orders. Conquerors, when they are numerically inferior to the conquered, will almost always adopt the language and customs of the occupied nation, for the sake of convenience or for other practical reasons—and that in spite of the fact that they are the masters.


“The same process is working itself out in our own society, even though we are unwilling to recognize it. We are learning the laws and the jargon of our slaves, so that we can give them orders. And so, gradually and imperceptibly, we are renouncing our human qualities and our own laws. We are dehumanizing ourselves by adopting the way of life of our slaves. The first symptom of this dehumanization is contempt for the human being. Modern man assesses by technical standards his own value and that of his fellow men; they are replaceable component parts. Contemporary society, which numbers one man to every two or three dozen mechanical slaves, must be organized in such a way as to function according to technological laws. Society is now created for technological, rather than for human, requirements. And that’s where tragedy begins.


“Men are suddenly being forced to live and behave according to technological laws that are foreign to them. Those who do not respect the laws of the machine—now promoted to social laws—are punished. Man, living in a minority, gradually develops into a proletarian minority. He is excluded from the society to which he belongs but in which he can no longer be integrated. As a result, he grows an inferiority complex, a desire to imitate the machine and to rid himself of those specifically human characteristics which hold him at a distance from the center of social activity.


“This slow process of dehumanization is at work under many different guises, making man renounce his emotions and reducing social relationships to something categorical, automatic, and precise, like the relationship between different parts of a machine. The rhythm and the jargon of the mechanical slaves, or robots, if you like, find echoes in our social relationships and our administration, in painting, literature, and dancing. Men are becoming the apes of robots. But that is only the beginning of the tragedy, the point where my novel begins—my novel, that is to say, the life of my father, and mother, your life, George, and mine, and that of the other characters.”


“And so we are developing into men‑machines?” asked the attorney in the same ironic vein.


“That,” said Traian, “is precisely what we cannot do. Therein lies the tragedy. The clash between the two realities—the technological and the human—has already come about. The mechanical slaves will win their revolution. They will conquer their freedom and become mechanical citizens of our society. And we, the human beings, will become the proletariat of a society organized to suit the necessities and characteristics of the majority of its citizens—the mechanical citizens.”


“In practice, though,” asked the attorney, “what form will all this take?”


“I should be as interested to see as you. But at the same time the thought of it terrifies me. I’d rather be dead than have to witness my own crucifixion and that of my fellow men.”


“Have you anything specific in mind?” asked the attorney.


“Everything happening on earth now and in the years ahead is but a symptom and phase of this same revolution—the revolt of the mechanical slaves. In the end men will no longer be able to live in society and yet keep their human characteristics. They will be treated as equal and uniform, and the laws of mechanical slaves will be applicable to them. No allowances will be made for the fact that they are human beings. There will be automatic arrests, automatic condemnations, automatic amusements, automatic executions. The individual will come to be as absurd as a piston or a machine part that demanded to lead a life of its own. The revolution will spread over the whole earth. Neither among the islands nor in the forests will there be a place of refuge. There will be nowhere to go. No nation will fight on our side. All the armies of the world will be composed of mercenaries fighting for the consolidation of their robot society, from which the individual is excluded. Up to now armies have fought to conquer new lands and new riches, to satisfy their national pride or the personal interests of kings and emperors; the ultimate aim was loot or glory. All these ambitions were human. But now armies fight for the interests of a society which scarcely tolerates the proletariat, humanity, even on its most distant borders. It is perhaps the blackest period in world history. Never before has man been so utterly despised. In barbarian societies, for example, a man was rated lower than a horse. This can still happen today with certain peoples and individuals. You were telling me just now about a peasant who felt no regrets at having killed his wife, but who tried to commit suicide at the thought that his horses would not be fed and watered while he was in prison. That is the way primitive societies undervalued man. In their day human sacrifice was an accepted thing. In contemporary society human sacrifice is no longer considered worth mentioning—it is commonplace. Human life is valuable only as a source of energy; the criterion is exclusively scientific. That is the terrible law of our technological barbarism. It will reign supreme after the total victory of the mechanical slaves.”


“And when will this revolution of yours break out?” asked the attorney.


“It has already begun,” said Traian. “We shall witness its progress. Most of us will not survive it. That’s why I am terribly afraid that I shall die before I get a chance to finish my book!”


“You’re taking rather a gloomy view of things,” said the attorney.


“I’m a poet, George,” said Traian. I have a sixth sense that enables me to catch a glimpse of the future. Every poet is a prophet. I am only sorry my prophecies are so pessimistic. My mission as a poet compels me to shout them from the housetops, even when they are unpleasant.”


“Surely you don’t seriously believe what you’ve been telling us?”


“Unfortunately, I am convinced of it!’


“I thought it was all poetic license!”


“It isn’t poetic license,” said Traian. “Every night I expect something to happen to me.”


“What could happen to you?” asked the attorney.


“Anything. The moment man has been reduced to the single dimension of his technico-social value, anything may happen. He can be arrested, sent to forced labor, exterminated, made to do any sort of work—for a Five-Year Plan, for the betterment of the race, or for what purpose you will, dictated by the Moloch Technocracy—and all without the slightest regard for his individual aspirations. The Society of Technological Civilization works exclusively according to technological principles, abstractions, and plans, and has only one moral precept: production.”



“Could we really be arrested?” The attorney had dropped his ironical tone. He questioned Traian in the half-frightened way in which we question fortunetellers about the future, even when in theory we do not believe in them.


“Nowhere on this earth will there be found one free man,” said Traian.


“So we shall all die off in prisons, without being guilty of any crime?”


“No,” said Traian. “Man will be fettered by technocracy for a very long time to come—but he will not die in chains. Technological Civilization can create comforts, but it cannot create the Spirit. And without the Spirit there is no genius. A society without men of genius is doomed. This new Civilization, which is now superseding Western Civilization and which will eventually conquer the entire world, will perish in its turn. . . . ‘The great Einstein asserts that a break of not more than two generations in the line of first‑class brains specially gifted for physics would be enough for the whole fabric of that science to crumble.’” [Count Hermann Keyserling]




“So we shall die in chains?” said the attorney


“We ourselves almost certainly shall—as prisoners of the technological barbarians. My novel will be the epilogue of this phase of man’s existence—this chapter of man’s history.”


“What will it be called?”


“The Twenty-Fifth Hour,” said Traian. “The hour when mankind is beyond salvation—when it is too late even for the coming of the Messiah. It is not the last hour; it is one hour past the last hour. It is Western Civilization at this very moment. It is NOW.”

C. Virgil Gheorghiu, The Twenty-Fifth Hour, New York, Knopf, 1950, pp 42-9