I’ve only got time for a quick post, but I thought it would be nice on this rainy and windswept day to pass on the news that the Danish Parliament (Folketinget) yesterday voted – by a majority of 85:24 – to approve laws allowing same-sex couples to marry.

This vote – and particularly the size of the majority – is yet more evidence that there’s something splendid in the state of Denmark. Danes have a much stronger commitment to real equality than can be found in most countries including, sadly, my own. While our politicians utter meaningless platitudes and offer feeble compromises, the Danes just get on and do the right thing. Can it be a coincidence that Denmark is the happiest country in the world?

I have visited Denmark on many occasions but I’m by no means an expert on Danish culture. I do wonder, therefore, how the progressive social agenda relates to the concept of Janteloven developed in a famous pre-War novel by Aksel Sademose to describe a type of social behaviour Denmark which is, on the one hand, strictly egalitarian but also, on the other, rigidly conformist. This “you’re no better than me” attitude has clearly found its way into many aspects of modern Danish life. I found an interesting blog article about Janteloven, for example, which says:

It stresses cooperation above competition, and it can be a relief from that persistent, capitalistic pressure to always excel, all the time. It requires respect for all, not only for the most “respectable.” It has been rewritten in a much more encouraging tone, as a recipe for teamwork.

On the other hand, one can see that this attitude might easily lead to a fatalistic outlook that stifles creativity and discourages originality and cultural diversity.

So is the success of the equal marriage lobby in Denmark an offshoot of, or a reaction against, Janteloven?

Answers on a postkort, please…


10 Responses to “Janteloven”

  1. I actually think a lot of the Danish liberalism is fear of confrontation. They don´t feel as liberal as they act, but it is worth it to them if confrontation can be avoided. The liberalism about sex and sex related issues is, I think, just part of a certain kind of Protestantism and practicality – not necessarily part of liberation, just part of the let´s get it done without too much trouble attitude.

    I´m not from Copenhagen, I´m from rural Jutland, and I´ve spent a lot of time in DK in winter; these things may give me a different perspective than what one gets as a shorter term visitor, a denizen of Copenhagen, etc.

    • telescoper Says:

      I’d imagine attitudes to such things vary greatly from city to countryside. They certainly do in Britain!

  2. Here´s the other non standard thing I think about DK: the state of it is good or good enough, yes, and the official thoughts of people (e.g. supporting gay marriage). But I think it really, really needs the social democracy to be human. I remember going to Spain as a teenager and seeing a car accident. People stopped to help and it blew me away – in DK nobody would help anyone of their free will, which is I think why they have to have the state set up so as to give help, otherwise they would die!

  3. The concept exists throughout Scandinavia, not just in Denmark, and is a meme known by all. I think it is mostly orthogonal to the issue of gay marriage, but one point of intersection might be the idea of fairness.

    Certainly Scandinavia, and especially Sweden, is very efficient in terms of creative works (be they in science, film, literature, music, industry, whatever) per capita (note the small population of these countries). I think this is related to the lack of corruption and general fairness of society (as reflected in income, for example).

    I am most familiar with Sweden, and note a breaking away from what has been the traditional culture since the 1950s or so, at least in some respects. I’m not sure if there is a similar trend in the rest of Scandinavia.

  4. Ragnhild Munck Says:

    This is why I love America. Here is no Jantelov. I went to school in Nykobing Mors where the Jantelov is written on the house where Aksel Sandemose was born. In USA there is no Jantelov. Here you are encouraged to follow your dreams. I found here a higher work moral/ethic, and I believe the Americans on the whole are happier and more helpful than the Danes.

    • philliphelbig Says:

      Talk to some Americans who have lost the little money they had due to health-care costs since they had no health insurance and were unable to obtain any. Talk to the relatives and friends of some of the 40 thousand or so Americans who are shot to death every year.

  5. philliphelbig Says:

    Interesting: My older comments automagically got my new gravatar once I signed up. OK. Now, however, a newer one has “philliphelbig” (the gravatar name must be all lowercase). However, on other WordPress blogs, even the new ones have “Phillip Helbig”. I’m guessing this is somehow deterministic; does anyone know the rules?

    Will hijack this thread to post a test comment after logging out.

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