Jew­ish Space Lasers: The Roth­schilds and 200 Years of Con­spir­a­cy Theories

  • Review
By – July 1, 2024

Why should we care about the Roth­schild fam­i­ly today? Through fas­ci­nat­ing archival work, Mike Roth­schild (of no rela­tion to the Roth­schilds in his book) attempts to answer this ques­tion, and he does so quite com­pelling­ly — though it makes for sober read­ing in our cur­rent media envi­ron­ment and his­tor­i­cal moment. 

Roth­schild traces the family’s jour­ney from the Frank­furt Ghet­to to con­tem­po­rary Lon­don, with detours through Aus­tria, France, South Africa, and the Unit­ed States. Through­out the book, he links the fam­i­ly to var­i­ous forms of anti­semitism, argu­ing that mod­ern Jews are still bat­tling the myths that start­ed in a game of tele­phone almost two hun­dred years ago.” Roth­schild shows that the his­to­ry of this fam­i­ly is, to a large degree, the his­to­ry of glob­al anti­semitism. He dis­sem­bles the myths about the Roth­schilds that have entered pop­u­lar cul­ture, rang­ing from their manip­u­la­tion of the Bat­tle of Water­loo to their sup­posed orches­tra­tion of the Amer­i­can Civ­il War. Amaz­ing­ly (and depress­ing­ly), Roth­schild helps us see how anti­se­mit­ic cur­rents of thought move from local to glob­al. He traces their flow through­out Europe, the Arab world, and Asia, and onto the book­shelves of read­ers as dif­fer­ent as nine­teenth-cen­tu­ry Marx­ists and Osama Bin Laden.

One par­tic­u­lar­ly sur­pris­ing detail revealed in Rothschild’s his­tor­i­cal sur­vey is that the Roth­schilds served as an inspi­ra­tion to many dias­po­ra Jews, who saw in them a bea­con to fol­low in the dark times cre­at­ed by relent­less scape­goat­ing and anti­semitism.” In real­i­ty, the Roth­schilds’ for­tune was insep­a­ra­ble from their engage­ment with Euro­pean colo­nial enter­pris­es. Equal­ly sur­pris­ing is the degree to which the family’s ear­ly suc­cess and infamy were inter­twined with their mas­tery of com­mu­ni­ca­tion net­works in ear­ly mod­ern Europe. 

The clos­er Roth­schild gets to our cur­rent moment, the more sober­ing his research becomes. Trac­ing anti­se­mit­ic con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries from the Roth­schilds to George Soros, he demon­strates the out­sized role that the obses­sion with this fam­i­ly and their prodi­gies have played in the emer­gence of a new­ly nor­mal­ized cul­ture of anti­semitism in Amer­i­ca. He also exam­ines their role in shap­ing the con­tem­po­rary Repub­li­can party. 

Roth­schild clos­es Jew­ish Space Lasers with­out dis­cussing the upcom­ing 2024 elec­tion. How­ev­er, it will be impos­si­ble to read this book with­out the cur­rent polit­i­cal strife in the US and the Mid­dle East in mind, par­tic­u­lar­ly as read­ers grap­ple with Rothschild’s analy­sis of nine­teenth-cen­tu­ry writ­ers like Charles Four­ri­er, who argued not only that the Jews be forcibly returned to Pales­tine,” but that the bill [be] sent to the House of Roth­schild.” This old his­to­ry is, as Roth­schild shows, rear­ing its ugly head once again. 

Joshua Krucht­en is an edu­ca­tor and cur­rent doc­tor­al can­di­date at NYU spe­cial­iz­ing in the lit­er­a­ture and his­to­ry of ear­ly mod­ern Europe.

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