Denmark is known for being a homogeneous society where no one is considered as better than another, and showing off is an unacceptable behaviour. It is said that Danish society owes many of its characteristics to Aksel Sandemose’s novel A Fugitive Crosses His Tracks (En flyktning krysser sitt spor) and the 10 laws of the fictional city, Jante.
Even though there are exceptions, the Danish society model is based on principles based on the Law of Jante, 10 rules that Danish-Norwegian author Aksel Sandemose wrote about in his novel, A Fugitive Crosses His Tracks (En flyktning krysser sitt spor), back in 1933.
The 10 Laws of Jante:
- You shall not believe you are anything.
- You shall not believe you are as much as us.
- You shall not believe you are wiser than us.
- You shall not imagine you are better than us.
- You shall not believe you know more than us.
- You shall not believe you are more than us.
- You shall not believe you are good for anything.
- You shall not laugh at us.
- You shall not believe anyone cares about you.
- You shall not believe you can teach us anything.
‘You’re not to think you’re someone special’ is the first rule, and it is followed by nine more that have the same meaning, more or less. These principles are followed not only in Denmark but in other Scandinavian countries too, such as Norway and Sweden. Though many claim these models have faded out, no one is denying that they have defined the way Scandinavian societies function and that this behaviour has been embedded in most Scandinavians.
Those who believe the Janteloven has helped form a healthy society claim that due to these rules, community is put above individuality in Denmark. To some extent, this is the reason the country keeps ranking first as the World’s Happiest Nation. Moreover, another positive outcome of the 10 Laws of Jante is that while in many societies, acting in a showy way, bragging about income, social status, or a successful career is received positively, it’s considered unacceptable in Denmark because everyone is perceived as equal.
That sounds positive, but what about the fact that Danish society is characterised by neutrality and conformity due to Janteloven? As opponents of Janteloven point out, these norms were imposed and used in Scandinavians’ daily life for so long that they have created a homogeneous society whose inhabitants may be losing their uniqueness and are discouraged from developing themselves further or standing out in the crowd. That leads to another problem: diverse opinions are rarely heard.
The major question raised regarding the Laws of Jante: is it about all being equal or is it about all being the same and conforming?