The “right to travel” is a common appeal to authority used in debates among libertarians and non libertarians alike. I think this stems from a lack of information regarding the subject or the “sovereign citizen” types in the larger libertarian community who have been known to invoke this in discussions about licensing. It has in essence become a functional misnomer, even to the extent people are saying that violating this supposed natural right is a violation of the Non-aggression Principle.
Let’s break down the phrase “right to travel” by looking directly at the terms.
First, let’s look at what rights are. Essentially, rights are nothing more than ethical principles, which are entitlements to be left alone, that we derive from our existence. For instance, we have a right to not be killed by others, we have a right to not have our property taken away by others, and we have a right to not have our speech quelled by others. However, we do not have a right to other people’s property or labor. This is the difference between a state granted privilege and contracted or natural right. A state granted privilege or a contracted right can only come from the state or another person through force or a contract. For instance, a “right” to a cheese burger can only ever exist under a contract, or by the state forcibly taking that cheese burger from the producer and giving it to you.
Next, we should define travel. Travel is merely the journey from your current location to another over private, unowned, or state controlled property. Now allow me to break off into a tangent on this by saying in a completely private society, there would be no state property. All property would be privately controlled or unowned. With the population as it currently sits the non-existence of unowned property, at least on this planet and especially within the united states, is a forgone conclusion in a practical sense. Meaning unowned land simply does not exist today, it either comes under the purview of the state or is controlled by private interests.
So, the phrase “right to travel” implies we have a right (legal or ethical principle to be left alone) to travel across (state or privately owned) property. So do we have a right to do that? I don’t think we do. Let’s break this down to the three areas of property we can traverse, as mentioned above.
I don’t think it’s ethical to say you have an exclusive right to travel across state owned property, because that property was appropriated with money that was taken from people unjustly. So therefore that right to travel across that state controlled property would not exist if not for the state, because in a free society that property would be privately owned. Therefore, the “right to travel” across state controlled property can not be a natural right, because it can only exist as a privilege from the state.
Similarly to state controlled property, I don’t believe it would be ethical to claim and exclusive right to travel across someone else’s private property. As this would violate basic property rights which are derived from self ownership and are directly related to the Non-aggression Principle. That is unless you have a contract and since this “right to travel” across private property is a contracted right, it therefore can not be a natural right, and thus refutes the idea that the “right to travel” is a natural right in the context of private property.
Furthermore, the existence of state property naturally and continually interferes with private property. As the right to private property would naturally include the existence of privacy and exclusivity. However, under a state this does not exist because public property such as roads and “public” thoroughfares infringe upon that. Forcing, by monopoly, the travel of others along a road that was not agreed upon by a property owner to run through, over, or adjacent to private property. This simply could not happen in a free society.
Lastly, we come to unowned property, which as described above does not currently exist on Earth. This, in contrast with the other two, I do believe to be ethical to traverse across without a contract. This unowned property constitutes an unowned resource and can be used by anyone crossing it for whatever means they feel are justifiable, as long as they are not harming anyone else in the process. So we can deduce that the only true and natural “right to travel” is across unowned property. Thus it becomes obvious that the “right to travel” can only ever exist in the context of unowned property. And the implication or enforcement of a “right to travel” across private or state controlled property, and not its inverse, is the violation of the Non-aggression Principle.
So the next time a libertarian, or anyone for that matter, says they or others have a “right to travel” ask them what kind of property they are traveling across. Since we know, for now, the answer is either going to state controlled property or private property, their argument that a natural “right to travel” exists, is now easily proven false.