'Janteloven' by Aksel Sandemose 1899-1965
'Janteloven' (The Jante Law) as a concept was created by the Dano-Norwegian author Aksel Sandemose. In his novel 'A Fugitive Crosses His Tracks ('En flyktning krysser sitt spor') he 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.
Generally used colloquially in Denmark and the rest of the Nordic countries as a sociological term to negatively describe a condescending attitude towards individuality and success, the term refers to a mentality that de-emphasises individual effort and places all emphasis on the collective, while discouraging those who stand out as 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.
- Du skal ikke tro, du er noget.
You shall not believe that you are somebody.
- Du skal ikke tro, at du er lige så meget som os.
You shall not believe that you are as worthy as us.
- Du skal ikke tro, at du er klogere end os.
You shall not believe that you are any wiser than us.
- Du skal ikke bilde dig ind, at du er bedre end os.
You shall not imagine that you are any better than us.
- Du skal ikke tro, at du ved mere end os.
You shall not believe that you know anything more than us.
- Du skal ikke tro, at du er mere end os.
You shall not believe that you are more than us.
- Du skal ikke tro, at du duer til noget.
You shall not believe that you are good at anything.
- Du skal ikke le ad os.
You shall not laugh at us.
- Du skal ikke tro, at nogen bryder sig om dig!
You shall not believe that anyone cares about you!
- Du skal ikke tro, at du kan lære os noget!
You shall not believe that 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.
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, Swedish, or Norwegian.
Later, the meaning of The Law of Jante was extended to refer to those who want to break out of their social groups and reach a higher position in society in general.