Why has the extreme right Greek Golden Dawn, a party with clear links to fascism, experienced a rise defying all theories that claim that such a party is unlikely to win in post-Second World War Europe? And, if we accept that economic crisis is an explanation for this, why has such a phenomenon not occurred in other countries that have similar conducive conditions, such as Portugal and Spain? This article addresses this puzzle by: (1) carrying out a controlled comparison of Greece, Portugal and Spain; and (2) showing that the rise of the extreme right is not a question of intensity of economic crisis. Rather it is the nature of the crisis – that is, economic versus overall crisis of democratic representation – that facilitates the rise of the extreme right. We argue that extreme right parties are more likely to experience an increase in their support when economic crisis culminates into an overall crisis of democratic representation. Economic crisis is likely to become a political crisis when severe issues of governability impact upon the ability of the state to fulfil its social contract obligations. This breach of the social contract is accompanied by declining levels of trust in state institutions, resulting in party system collapse.