The “Jante Law” or “Law of Jante” (in Danish and Norwegian “Janteloven”), was invented by Danish/Norwegian author Aksel Sandemose in his book from 1933 “En flyktning krysser sitt spor” (A refugee crosses his path). The book takes place in the fictive town of Jante which is heavily based on Sandemose’s childhood home of Nykøbing Mors in Denmark and is told in “I” form by the book’s protagonist Espen Arnakke.
The point of the law is that you shouldn’t think too highly of yourself, stay “on the ground”, and certainly not believe that you are better than others. The law is:
- Don’t think you are anybody special.
- Don’t think you are as good as us.
- Don’t think you are smarter than us.
- Don’t tell yourself that you are better than us.
- Don’t think you know more than us.
- Don’t think you are more important than us.
- Don’t think you are good at anything.
- Don’t laugh at us.
- Don’t think anyone cares about you.
- Don’t think you can teach us anything.
An eleventh clause is introduced later in the book:
- Don’t you think we know something about you?
The eleventh clause can be seen as a threat to those who think too highly of themselves: We others will certainly know something about you, and we will use it against those who transgress. We all have our guilty secrets, and some of them just might be known to others. It is deliberate that the clause is formed as a (rhetorical) question; this makes it all the more threatening.
Sandemose himself writes in the introduction to his book that the law is “hopelessly universal” and, if anything, applies more in Brooklyn than in the small town that gave it its name. However, many Danes think the law is something very peculiar to Denmark. This is obviously a violation of the law; we think we are something special. 😉
We often see that when Danes fail to succeed at something, they will use the Jante Law as an excuse. It is not because they couldn’t manage, it is because the rest of society failed to recognize them. Typical Jante-Denmark!
I’m not so sure. Every success is certainly viewed by others with a certain degree of envy, and every failure with some degree of (malicious) glee, but it is a bit too easy to blame one’s own misfortunes on the malice of others.