No historian from Europe can afford to take the topic of fascism too lightly. Harvard’s Niall Ferguson understands that, but he offers an interesting perspective in Newsweek about the Continent’s latest version of fascist ideology.

Populism is the standard political response to financial crisis. In America we have seen two different variants—the right-wing populism of the Tea Party and the left-wing populism of the Occupy movement. But European populism takes more toxic forms.

Nothing was easier to predict than this: that the crisis of the euro zone would spark a nationalist backlash. [Greek group] Golden Dawn is not just xenophobic; it’s also Europhobic. The same thing has happened in the Netherlands: there, Geert Wilders started out by attacking Muslim immigrants (and indeed Islam itself), but has more recently added Euro-bashing to his repertoire of his Freedom Party. …

… Yet there is one crumb of comfort. Fascism is for young men. All that marching around, beating up opponents, and giving Roman salutes gets steadily harder once you pass the age of 30. And the good news is that Europe really has passed the age of 30. To be precise, nearly a quarter—23 percent—of the population of Greece are 65 or older. For the Italians it’s even higher: 25 percent. Any Spaniard over 50 remembers what fascism was really like.

Perhaps for this reason, the new right tends to do rather poorly when people actually vote, rather than just opine to pollsters. The Dutch Freedom Party lost around a third of its seats in last month’s elections. Earlier in the year, Timo Soini tried and failed to become the Finnish president. Marine Le Pen couldn’t even win a seat for herself in the French National Assembly.

Blackshirts were bad and brownshirts were worse. But who’s honestly afraid of grayshirts?

Fascism still isn’t funny. But the more it ages, the less it scares me.