Although the presence of some unifying ideology, involving principles such as equality, justice, security, nationalism, may seem noble and sufficient, at the end of the day, consent of the governed comes from providing value to your citizens. If you cannot provide for those you govern, the governed will find someone who can.
In recent years, and in many western European countries, far-right movements such as Golden Dawn have slowly been growing in popularity. Given that European countries have tended to lean more towards the liberal side, this might come as a surprise. A quick analysis of some of these groups reveals that their level of support is not so surprising after all.
Take, for example, the Greek Nationalist organization Golden Dawn, which is frequently accused of facism and neo-Nazism. Members of Golden Dawn are often found providing low-cost food programs for the poor. Golden Dawn also offers protection for victims of crimes committed by immigrants, and, in doing so, has forged unofficial alliances with certain police precincts in Greece. In fact, Golden Dawn’s most loyal demographic happens to be Greek police officers.
The lesson to be learned here is that any political party that seeks legitimacy in the eyes of the people does not need to craft a message that resonates with the populace. It merely needs to provide the citizenry with services that meet their needs.
Golden Dawn’s support does not come from people who are fascist themselves, but from people who are looking for someone that will provide for them and offer services that are needed. It also helps that Golden Dawn provides an easy scapegoat for the problems facing native Greeks, or non-Greek immigrants. It gives people an excuse and offers them a way out. It’s not hard to see how this is appealing to many people.
Given the relative lack of power such groups have, many might consider it a rational response to simply ignore them and thus deny them any sort of recognition. I tend to be skeptical of this view. The last time that major European countries had to deal with a protracted economic slump, concurrent with a minority undercurrent of nationalism and xenophobia, Fascist parties gained control of Germany and Italy. There are still people alive today who experienced, firsthand, how that turned out.
This is why I keep an eye on such groups. Movements that start in Europe often make it across the Atlantic sometime between five to 30 years later. It is highly likely that within our lifetimes, the United States will have an extreme far-right group of its own that rapidly wins the support of certain sections of the populace. A wise person would prepare for this scenario and plan accordingly.
The best way to prevent the formation of such organizations would be for the government to engage in policies that benefit voters and to avoid taking actions that are popularly opposed. Even if you simply adopt the “bread and circuses” strategy prevalent in Ancient Rome, you will still keep enough people content and complacent enough to head off such reactionary sentiment. Ignoring the warning signs that lead to the formation of such groups, though, is a mistake that should be avoided at all costs.