Back in 2004 Jeremy Rifkin published a book titled The European Dream: How Europe's Vision of the Future is Quietly Eclipsing the American Dream. In it he presented the argument that the European Union would be a more socially egalitarian, ecologically conscious and politically cosmpolitan actor, better able to meet the challenges of the twenty-first century than the United States has been doing--reconciling the demands of globalization with social justice, taking the lead on issues like climate change and the development of poorer countries, and building bridges between the West and the Middle East and Russia.
In the years since then particular EU members have had some achievements in these areas (Germany's accomplishments in reducing fossil fuel use and developing renewable energy sources, for instance), but the Union as a whole has fallen short of developing robust collective policies regarding them. And where Union policy has been more coherent, its purposes have been quite different from those such progressives sought for--the transformation of the EU into a vehicle for the imposition of neoliberalism on electorates which had previously resisted it, like those of Greece and Italy.
The results have been about what anyone cognizant of the results of such policies in places as diverse as Latin America and Russia would expect: economic depression, political radicalization, and the disruption not merely of the substance of democracy, but its form as well. A year ago there were rumors of a coup plot in Greece--and considerable innuendo that many a Western capital might not have been averse to such a turn, finding in it a convenient way out of the current impasse. Now swastika-brandishing Nazis patrol the streets of Athens "enforcing order" with the apparent blessing of the police, while their party rises from fringe element to major factor in Greek politics--scenes that could have come out of 1930s Germany.
It may seem melodramatic to compare Greece today to the Weimar Republic. Certainly it does not hold the continental balance of power the way Germany did, and for all its revanchist fantasies, the Golden Dawn can hardly hope to realize any of them through military adventurism. And it may be that the party's raised profile is a short-lived oddity like the popularity of Vladimir Zhirinovsky and his "Liberal Democratic Party" in Russia in the early 1990s.
Still, it is worth remembering that the ultranationalists in that country did shift the country's politics rightward, with consequences evident in the Caucasus and elsewhere to this day. It is also worth keeping in mind that the Balkans remains less than the most stable of regions, that the internal consequences of the Golden Dawn's rise might be bad enough in themselves--and that it could be that Greece is just ahead of the curve, the most advanced example of a pattern evident across the European continent, throughout which the far right has been in the ascendant. It hardly seems impossible that large parts of the continent could wind up like Athens, while worse than that might not be wholly ruled out, with France's expulsions of Roma a worrisome step backward--for the treatment not only of this group, but of minorities and disadvantaged groups in general, civil liberties in general, and the cosmopolitanism that underlies the whole European project.