It was ‘created’ by Danish-Norwegian author Aksel Sandemose in his novel ‘A Fugitive Crosses His Tracks’ (1933). The novel portrays the small Danish town of Jante (inspired by his birth town Nykøbing Mors) and through relentless self-confessions from his childhood, protagonist Espen Arnakke tries to understand the mechanisms that drove him to the murder John Wakefield in Misery Harbor. The novel presents this famous list of commands:
- Don’t think you’re anything special.
- Don’t think you’re as good as us.
- Don’t think you’re smarter than us.
- Don’t convince yourself that you’re 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 rule recognized in the novel is:
11. Don’t think that there aren’t a few things we know about you.
In general, the term is used to describe the negative attitude towards individuality and success within Scandinavian communities. The collective state of mind refers to a mentality which de-emphasizes individual effort and discouraging those who stand out.
The essence of these commands is to deny the individual the belief that he or she has any self-worth. It creates an illusion about the collective: The illusion serves to isolate the individual and make him or her feel lonely, worthless or ostracized by the community.
The individual perceives anyone as his guardian, with the following suspicion, distrust and aggression. Through the portrayal of the protagonist’s life in the novel, the author shows how the Law of Jante characterized everyday life, down to the details on how to dress, how to express and how to live life.
The monotone set of rules is a recipe for a social massacre of the human psyche.
Sandemose’s description of intolerance in Jante, and his formulation of the Jante law has received high status in social psychology. Aksel Sandemose is one of the most insightful ‘sociologists’ in Scandinavian literature. He acts as a ‘psychologist’, not only because of the power of inspiration from psychoanalysis, but also the tireless desire to find out why people act irrationally.
Text by: Anette Broteng Christiansen
Illustration by: ThorNews
Source: Hareide, J./ Aksel Sandemose: Diktning som skjebne (1999), Wikipedia.