The Law of Jante is a pattern of group behaviour towards individuals within Scandinavian communities, which negatively portrays and criticises individual success and achievement (and the flaunting of such) as unworthy and inappropriate.
The Jante Law as a concept was created by the Danish 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 (modeled 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 as a sociological term to negatively describe an attitude towards individuality and success common in Sweden and Scandinavia, the term refers to a mentality which de-emphasizes 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 are 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 us.
– You’re not to think you are smarter than us.
– You’re not to convince yourself that you are better than us.
– You’re not to think you know more than us.
– You’re not to think you are more important than us.
– 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.
An eleventh rule recognized in the novel is:
– You’re not to think that there aren’t a few things we know about you.
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. These 11 principles or commandments form the “Jante’s Shield” of the Scandinavian people. Sandemose wrote about the working class in the town of Jante and a group of people within the same social position. 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.