Mounier was the guiding spirit in the French personalist movement, and founder and director of Esprit, the magazine which was the organ of the movement. Mounier, who was the child of peasants, was a brilliant scholar at the Sorbonne. In 1929, when he was only twenty-four, he came under the influence of the French writer Charles Péguy, to whom he ascribed the inspiration of the personalist movement. Mounier's personalism became a main influence of the non-conformists of the 1930s.
Peter Maurin used to say wherever he went, "There is a man in France called Emmanuel Mounier. He wrote a book called The Personalist Manifesto. You should read that book."
Although Mounier was critical of the Moscow Trials of the 1930s, he has been taken to task by the historian Tony Judt, among others, for his failure to respond critically to the excesses of Stalinism in the postwar period.
Mounier once commented, in a restrained manner, on the Pope's "silence" concerning the persecution of the Jews by the Nazi regime; thus, he is cited in the bibliography on Pope Pius XII as indirectly originating the "black legend" of Pius XII.