A lack of money leads to a vacuum where people are so busy blaming one another for their problems that those with views normally considered obnoxious manage to get a hearing.
The Far Right says the blame belongs to one part of society - that it's the Left, the Jews, or the immigrants who've caused the trouble - and everything would be dandy if we just got rid of them.
That's how the Nazis rose in Germany in the wake of the Great Depression. It's how the Blackshirts grew in Britain, how the National Front is returning in France this week. It's how Anders Behring Breivik justified the slaughter of 77 people, the youngest of whom was just 14 but because she was a youth member of the Norwegian Labour party was due a bullet as far as he was concerned.
It's how fundamentalists are justifying their attacks on the West, too. They're as much Muslims as Hitler was a Socialist, but they're using the word to describe their war on the freedoms they feel threatened by because 'fascist' doesn't make good PR. But fascist is what they are, and their support largely comes from people in extreme poverty.
Fascists believe they are part of a elite group connected by blood or culture which makes them superior to others. Breivik has exactly the same attitude as Osama bin Laden, and they'd both be able to have a long and happy chat with Hitler. I suppose we should just be glad they haven't had the chance.
But because the fascists call themselves all kinds of other things it's easy to think Muslims want to kill everyone, that Socialists are anti-Semitic, or a terrorist is in fact a nationalist and as we all generally love our countries that we can kind of see where he's coming from...
Which is how they get a foothold. All the Germans who voted for Hitler didn't do so because they thought he was a lunatic who'd gas six million people, they did it because they heard some of his more anodyne views and thought they could see what he meant.
But of course it's all history so we know how it happens and it can't possibly happen again.
Or can it?
Across the Arab world leaders have been toppled by mass uprisings but those seizing power are extremists pointing the finger and fostering hate, while the much-promised freedom of the Arab Spring is conspicuous by its absence.
In France 20 per cent of the electorate voted for a woman who says Muslims are "occupying" parts of Paris. In the US there are men who not only believe a baby born from rape is a gift from God, that women seeking abortions should have instruments forced into their vaginas and that gays can be cured, but who are being elected to public office to put those views into law.
And before you shake your head and sigh, and think it's much nicer here in England, my postal vote for the London Assembly elections dropped through my door this week and contains TWO representatives of the extreme right wing bidding to help run one of the most culturally-diverse cities in the world.
Aside from the main parties I've also got the National Front and the British National Party taking up two spaces on a ticket of eight candidates. They've every right to be there in a free country but I can't help thinking that if they were in charge a couple of the other candidates wouldn't get a look in.
Our own economic woes are being blamed on a handful of bankers (GAS THEM!), on immigrants (LOCK 'EM OUT!), on a criminal underclass (SCROUNGERS!) and never at all on the political elite of all parties who have been making these decisions for years without having had a proper job, run a business, or wondered where the next meal is coming from.
I'm the granddaughter of an immigrant, so I'm fine with them if they add to the place. I'm not a fan of Goldman Sachs but it strikes me we ought to blame the people over the past 20 years who have enabled the bankers, rather than bankers who acted like bankers always will. And as I recall the Victorians had a similar attitude to the lifelong poor, and eventually realised the best solution was to educate them out of poverty.
Because our mainstream politicians are so useless there are people voting for George Galloway just because he's not one of them. And there will be people voting for the BNP, NF and EDL not because they like fascists but because they have taken to heart the cheap PR being pumped out by our ineffectual leaders who, while fairly mild in their views, can stay in power only by blaming banks, brown people and benefit cheats.
I've never been a member of any political party, and journalism long ago removed any bias I had towards one creed or another by amply proving there's an even distribution of twats on all sides.
I'm not one to tell other people how to vote, or to mind much whether they're Right or Left. And according to Helena Bonham Carter if you vote for Dishface he's not even a Tory, probably in much the same way Tony Blair wasn't really Labour.
But please don't listen to people who hate, and blame, and don't want you to question what they say. Don't feel that because we're all strapped for cash it's the fault of anyone but the people who've been running the place. Keep your fingers crossed Gideon manages to figure out economics before the next General Election, because when we're rich and happy we find it easier to ignore the bad people.
And when you see a fascist, call them a fascist. They hate that.
Little sods are everywhere. BE VIGILANT.