Niall Ferguson is a professor of history at Harvard University. He is also a senior research fellow at Jesus College, Oxford University, and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. His Latest book, Civilization: The West and the Rest, has just been published by Penguin Press.
It can be a mistake to laugh at fascists. Charlie Chaplin mocked Hitler and Mussolini in The Great Dictator. P.G. Wodehouse had fun with his preposterous parody of Oswald Mosley, Roderick Spode. But Nazism turned out to be no joke. Today Chaplin’s film, for all his comic genius, is embarrassing to watch, while Wodehouse lived to regret his complacency about what was brewing in Berlin.
So when a party called “Golden Dawn”—which has something that looks a lot like a swastika as its logo— starts denying aspects of the Holocaust and heaping opprobrium on immigrants, it’s best to keep a straight face. Sure, they’re Greeks, not Germans. Sure, their party leader, Nikolaos G. Michaloliakos, is about as -charismatic as a barrel of rotten olives. But if elections were held tomorrow, these guys could become the third-largest party in the Greek Parliament.
The Greeks are the extreme case. But maybe that’s only because economically they are the extreme case. This year the Greek economy is forecast to contract by 7 percent. Unemployment is at 23 percent and youth unemployment a mind-blowing 54 percent. Under these circumstances, it would be rather remarkable if people were patiently sticking to the mainstream parties of the center-left and center-right...