The Scandinavian
Law of Jante
culture and personality

Alex Sandermose (1899-1965)

Aksel Sandemose, along with N.F.S Grundvig, the founder of the Danish Folk High School movement, is one of the most influential of Danish writers, although being born and dying in Denmark, he spent much of his life living in Norway.
Sandermose's, influence across Scandinavia, even today is large, especially in the areas of education and overall culture, manifesting itself in such diverse ways, as how people interact, their values and the clothes they wear.
The Law of Jante (Janteloven), emphasis equality and denigrates overt displays and speech reflecting individualism, what might be termed in modern parlance as 'showboating'. It is set out in his book 'A Fugitive Crosses His Tracks' (En flyktning krysser sitt spor), 1933. A novel based on the community and inhabitants of the fictional Danish town Jante, representing his home town of Nykøbing Mors, Jutland, West Denmark.

It is not something that, in spite of its historical origin is just of historical interest. The very opposite is true and while people might not be overtly aware of its application, it forms a fundamental part of Scandinavian culture and society today; although at times this may operate at a sub-conscious level. A recent occurrence of the application of the Law, was Norway’s refusal to host the 2022 Winter Olympics Games. One demand made by the IOC for hosting the Games, was the requirement to provide officials with dedicated traffic lanes, a demand rejected by the Norwegian people, as it would of been a fundamental breach of the Law; setting one group of people above others.


It rejects personal statements of success and setting oneself apart from others through academic or physical attainment. This also includes the notion of ‘looking or speaking down to people’ expressed through the believe one is better than others in society. It stresses community cohesion through shared values with everyone making an equally valuable contribution, although in different ways.   


Across society, it stresses the state provision of free education for all, along with free healthcare and lifelong social care, provided by high levels of taxation, using a tax system that enforces a close rate of pay for all who work, without extreme and excessive levels of reward across society. 


The Law of Jante consists of ten essential elements, that reflect attitudes already deeply ingrained in Scandinavian culture, when Sandermose wrote them:

1.   You're not to think you are anything special;
2.   You're not to think you are as good as we are;
3.   You're not to think you are smarter than we are;
4.   You're not to imagine yourself better than we are;
5.   You're not to think you know more than we do;  
6.   You're not to think you are more important than we are;  
7.   You're not to think you are good at anything;
8.   You're not to laugh at us;
9.   You're not to think anyone cares about you; and
10. You're not to think you can teach us anything;  
An eleventh element of the Law, which represented the penal code of Jante was: Perhaps you don't think we know a few things about you? 
The Law of Jante and its effects may be connected to the individual, who often faces pressure to change, either originating internally through a feeling of inadequacy or through external pressure, often manifesting itself in a desire to 'succeed' and to make the accomplisment of success materially visible. A desire for authenticity on the part of the individual can often be denigrated and criticised by others and is seen as 'failure'. 
Change, is denoted by the concept that one should attempt to be true and authentic to oneself and not act out an invented, pretense character. This is succinctly presented as the conflict between what one (or others) thinks one should be and what one realises is one's true-self, identity, personality and character. There is an underlying notion of reality as opposed to visions or dreams, an acceptance of change happening only in the context of becoming rooted in the real world and confronting and accepting who one really is and not striving and attempting to change into someone synthetic and unreal.   
Society and the Law of Jante, within Scandinavia, acts as a social brake, slowing down the twin processes of a feeling to achieve a role which is artificial and false, while also curbing the desire to proclaim success through behavoir and appearance, which sets the individual apart from society. The individual's place within society and community, as an ordinary person, not standing apart or recognisable different is a paramount aspect of the law and acts to release pressure on the individual to conform as a synthetic 'type', but leaves greater freedom with the individual to achieve congruency with their true self.

Previous Posts from Denmark 
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Living on the West Coast
Danish Folk High Schools
Inge Lehmann