Law of Jante
The Law of Jante (Danish: Janteloven, IPA: [ˈjandəˌlovˀən]; Norwegian Bokmål: Janteloven, IPA: [ˈjɑntəˌlɔːvn̩], Nynorsk: Jantelova; Icelandic: Jantelögin; Faroese: Jantelógin; Swedish: Jantelagen; IPA: [²jantɛˌlɑːɡɛn]; Finnish: Janten laki) is the description of a pattern of group behaviour towards individuals within Nordic countries that negatively portrays and criticises individual success and achievement as unworthy and inappropriate. The Jante Law as a concept was created by the Dano-Norwegian author Aksel Sandemose, who, in his novel A Fugitive Crosses His Tracks (En flyktning krysser sitt spor, 1933, English translation published in the USA in 1936), identified the Law of Jante as ten rules. Sandemose's novel portrays the small Danish town Jante (modelled upon his native town Nykøbing Mors as it was at the beginning of the 20th century, but typical of all small towns and communities), where nobody is anonymous.
Used generally in colloquial speech in the Nordic countries as a sociological term to describe a condescending attitude towards individuality and success, the term refers to a mentality that diminishes individual effort and places all emphasis on the collective, while simultaneously denigrating those who try to stand out as individual achievers.
There are ten rules in the law as defined by Sandemose, all expressive of variations on a single theme and usually referred to as a homogeneous unit: You are not to think you're anyone special or that you're better than us.
The ten rules state:
- You're not to think you are anything special.
- You're not to think you are as good as we are.
- You're not to think you are smarter than we are.
- You're not to imagine yourself better than we are.
- You're not to think you know more than we do.
- You're not to think you are more important than we are.
- You're not to think you are good at anything.
- You're not to laugh at us.
- You're not to think anyone cares about you.
- You're not to think you can teach us anything.
These ten principles or commandments are often claimed to form the "Jante's Shield" of the Scandinavian people.
In the book, the Janters who transgress this unwritten 'law' are regarded with suspicion and some hostility, as it goes against the town's communal desire to preserve harmony, social stability and uniformity.
An eleventh rule recognised in the novel as 'the penal code of Jante' is:
- Perhaps you don't think we know a few things about you?
From the chapter Maybe you don't think I know something about you:
"That one sentence (the eleventh rule), which acts as the penal code of Jante, as such was rich in content. It was a charge of all sorts of things, and that it also had to be, because absolutely nothing was allowed. It was also an elaborate indictment, with all kinds of unspecified penalties given to be expected. Furthermore it was useful, depending fully on tone of voice, in financial extortion and enticement into criminal acts, and it could also be the best means of defense."
Sandemose wrote about the working class in the town of Jante, a group of people of the same social position. He expressly stated in later books that the social norms of Jante were universal and not intended to depict any particular town or country. It should be understood that Sandemose was seeking to formulate and describe attitudes that had already been part of the Danish and Norwegian psyche for centuries. Today, however, it is common in Scandinavia to claim the Law of Jante as something quintessentially Danish, Norwegian or Swedish.
Later, the meaning of the Law of Jante was extended to refer to personal criticism of people who want to break out of their social groups and reach a higher position in society in general.
- Scott, Mark (18 December 2003). "Signs of Cracks in the Law of Jante". The New York Times. Retrieved 2013-12-22.
Taken from a book by the Danish author Aksel Sandemose, the concept suggests that the culture within Scandinavian countries discourages people from promoting their own achievements over those of others.
- Translator note, En flygtning krydser sit spor, 2nd ed.
- Adleswärd, Viveka (2 November 2003). "Avundsjukan har urgamla anor" [Jealousy has ancient ancestry]. Svenska Dagbladet (in Swedish). Retrieved 28 April 2015.
- Andersen, Steen (6 July 1992). "Den løbske Jantelov" [The Runaway Jante Law]. Morsø Folkeblad. Retrieved 28 April 2015.
- Sandemose, Aksel (1933). En flyktning krysser sitt spor. Oslo: Aschehoug (Repr. 2005). ISBN 82-03-18914-8
- Sandemose, Aksel (1936). A fugitive crosses his tracks. translated by Eugene Gay-Tifft. New York: A.A. Knopf.
- Koldau, Linda Maria (2013): Jante Universitet. (Jante University). Vol. 1: Den skønne facade (The Beautiful Facade); Vol. 2: Uddannelseskatastrofen (Educational Disaster); Vol. 3: Totalitære strukturer (Totalitarian Structures). Hamburg: Tredition. ISBN 978-3-8495-0351-2 (Vol. 1); ISBN 978-3-8495-0350-5 (Vol. 2); ISBN 978-3-8495-0266-9 (Vol. 3). In Danish language.
- Koldau, Linda Maria (2013): Educational Disaster. The Destruction of Our Universities: The Danish Case. (abridged English version of Jante Universitet containing the most important analyses and a chapter on Jante Law mentality in Danish education). Hamburg: Tredition (forthcoming). ISBN 978-3-8495-4936-7. In English language.
- Steffen, Juliane (2011): "Hjem til Jante" (Home to Jante), concise analysis of the mechanisms of Jante Law at Danish universities, published in: Linda Maria Koldau: Jante Universitet. Vol. 2: Uddannelseskatastrofen. Hamburg: Tredition, 2013, pp. 464–466. ISBN 978-3-8495-0350-5 (Vol. 2). In Danish language.