Skip to main content

The space race

Bezos and Branson are the new Vikings

Hulton Archive/Getty Images

People scoff at Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson and Elon Musk – but they’re our modern-day adventurers, says historian Arthur Herman in The Wall Street Journal. In fact, “I see strong parallels between today’s billionaire space race and the Viking raiders”. Like the trips to space by Bezos, Branson and Musk, Viking raids were “essentially private-sector enterprises”. Individual chieftains travelled with a tiny crew: “the first recorded successful attack on the English coastline, at Portland in 789, consisted of only three longships”. People assume these Viking raids were swashbuckling adventures – in reality, they were transforming civilisation. From 790 until 1000, Viking adventurers descended on Europe and Russia. They established trade routes to Normandy, the Mediterranean, Baghdad, Iceland, Greenland, the British Isles and North America. “The wealth that circulated through those routes helped to lift Europe out of the Dark Ages and laid the foundations for the great seaborne Spanish, English and Dutch empires.”

The same goes for our space-racing billionaires. Bezos, Branson and Musk aren’t just rich thrill-seekers. They see space “as a new source of wealth and opportunity for the world”. If government programmes aren’t up to scratch, let billionaires make tracks instead. “They breathe the Viking spirit of entrepreneurship on the edge of the unknown – a spirit that, a millennium after the last longships were laid to rest, still fascinates and inspires.”

Read the full article here (paywall).