Andrei Illarionov as a constitutional scholar

Andrei Illarionov was a senior fellow at the Cato Institute’s Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity for fourteen years, from October 2006 to early 2021. From 2000 to 2005, he served as a senior economic adviser to president Putin of Russia.

Earlier this week, Illarionov and Cato parted ways. It appears that he was forced to resign after the Institute had opened an investigation into his January 8, 2021, LiveJournal post titled “Reichstag Fire 2021.”

The post is in Russian, the primary language Illarionov uses on his blog at LiveJournal. Written as a Q&A with postscripts, it’s a catechism of a kind. It purports to prove that the storming of the Capitol on January 6 was a leftist provocation but – had it been genuine – would have been a legitimate response to the corruption and bias of America’s legal and political system.

The post title – Reichstag Fire 2021 – efficiently sums up the content of Illarionov’s catechism. The author’s paranoid reasoning feeds on outright lies and sources ranging from borderline Goebbelsian to Russian propaganda friendly. Neither his mode of reasoning nor his approach to fact-checking is appropriate for a serious researcher in any field.

Illarionov’s best defense would be to label his post as satire or sarcasm. I doubt he is constitutionally capable of either but some of his statements almost made me laugh out rather loudly. Unfortunately, it’s probably just me and the context I’m familiar with… Anyway, here’s the funniest claim if you ask me (in my own translation):

An error of constitutional principle [or principal constitutional error] was committed by the US Supreme Court when it declined to consider on the merits the question of voting rules having been changed (voting by mail) in certain states… If the Supreme Court had considered this question on the merits and on the basis of such consideration would have ruled the past change in the rules legitimate and, therefore, would have legitimized Biden’s win in the disputed states, then the legal resources for checking the quality of the elections would have been exhausted.

An unfathomable depth of ignorance: you’d think it would provoke a gazillion simultaneous facepalms. (Nothing of the kind happened: Illarionov’s Russian, Ukrainian and Russian American readers mostly agreed with him.) You’d also think that, having lived for a decade and a half in the United States, the author would have taken the time to familiarize himself with the basics of the country’s legal system.

By the time the Texas AG asked the Supreme Court to throw the election to Trump, the outgoing president had lost at least 49 cases in various courts, state and federal, and prevailed in exactly one (according to Marc Elias; the current count is 1-64). In other words, the Trumpists had all but exhausted their legal remedies when Texas tried its luck with the SCOTUS (also see Quadrillion I and II). There was little doubt among lawyers and legal experts that the SCOTUS would decline to hear the lawsuit. See, for instance, Jonathan Adler’s post-ruling post with links to his pre-ruling comments.

Apparently, Andrei Illarionov believes that the SCOTUS should have taken up the case because of its political importance, ignoring such minor issues as standing and opening the floodgate to myriads of state vs. state cases guaranteed to paralyze the federal legal system. (And America in general: California suing Texas for voter suppression, how about that?) As an economist, no doubt Illarionov has blamed (correctly) Russia’s slow growth in part on its dysfunctional court system but when it comes to a system that actually works, he expects it to operate according to his own concepts of right and wrong.

It’s a flight from reality too embarrassing even for a libertarian. As an instinctive libertarian myself, I’m prepared to tolerate a certain la-la-landishness among the “government is evil” crowd but not self-assertive ignorance about things one can easily understand with just a little effort.


  1. So in other words, Illarionov was only useful when he criticized Russia. As soon as he criticized US system, he lost his job. Well done…

    • “Millions of Americans share Andrei’s opinion…” They probably do but their belief cannot provide the missing factual basis for their opinion.

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